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Time to Panic – Part 4 of 4 – Now What?

In the first three parts of this series, I’ve tried to avoid the techno-jargon while addressing the absolute minimum I believe every American needs to know about the global warming debate. In Part 2, I emphasized that it may literally be a matter of life and death that we come to grips with the concept of a “tipping point” before we reach one.  Part 3 tried to shed some light on the most common arguments against anthropogenic (human caused) global warming and why they are fallacious.  In this final part, I talk about a couple of common sense considerations that should leave little question as the qualitative, if not quantitative, impact of our actions on the planet and mankind’s future upon it.

“I won’t drop it.”  [CRASH]

What parent hasn’t heard this remark after encouraging a child to be careful when carrying something a little too big or too hot for comfort?  It seems odd that it takes so many years before the human animal comprehends, at least on a subconscious level, the concept of risk avoidance.  No one plans an accident; otherwise it wouldn’t be called an “accident”.  If you don’t play with the knife, you won’t get cut by the knife.  If you don’t play with matches, you won’t accidentally start a fire.  Don’t play with the gun and it won’t go off.

Some of the best advice I ever received from my father was “If you don’t want to be forced to compromise, don’t ever put yourself in a compromising position.”  At some point in life, this advice or some variation of it is finally absorbed and we call it “common sense”.

Why don’t we try a little of this on the question of global warming?

Admittedly, there remains a lot of “unsettled science”.  But common sense dictates science doesn’t have to be settled to make sense.  If you’re slowly meandering across the railroad tracks and you see the 4:05 screaming toward you, there is a lot of unsettled science.  Without more detailed measurements of the train’s velocity, you can’t be certain you’ll be hit before you finish your stroll to the other side.  Neither can you be certain the train itself isn’t simply a mirage or a reflection making it appear substantially closer than it really is.  It is also possible there is a switch in the tracks and that before the train actually gets to you, it will be diverted onto another set of tracks going off in a different direction.

It’s all unsettled science.  However, there is strong evidence you’re about to be road-kill if you don’t act quickly.  Get your dumb ass off the tracks.

So it is with global warming.  We know that an overwhelming majority of “qualified” scientists firmly believe the problem is real and that it is extremely serious.  Can’t you hear the whistle blowing?

We know (settled science) that greenhouse gases trap heat.  We know (settled science) carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.  We know (settled science) mankind burns fuels that put approximately 42,600,000,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere.  We estimate natural processes on the planet can absorb about half of it.  For those without a calculator, that leaves more than 21,000,000,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide that accumulates each and every year.

I can go on and do that math if you wish, but it doesn’t matter.  There is a well known folk expression that when cloaked in pseudo-scientific talk says “You may not accumulate ten pounds of defacatory byproduct in a repository with merely a five pound capacity rating.”  Common sense says that at some point we have a serious problem.

Even if the estimates are off by a factor of two, if drinking an ounce of poison will kill you, does that mean drinking a half ounce is good for you?  If ten cigarettes a day will kill you from lung cancer, does it mean smoking five a day is good for your health?  If you jump from a five hundred foot cliff, you’ll die.  Will you land refreshed and ready to dance if you leap from a cliff half as high?  The problem is serious.  Common sense says it is folly to argue over the details.

Does it really matter if it’s tomorrow or the next day?  Does it matter if it affects you next year or your children in ten years?  It is not sustainable.

An Oregon high school teacher, Greg Cravens, did a good job of simplifying the question using what is called Ockham’s Razor.  I encourage you to watch it here.

Ockham\’s Razor


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