Archive for July, 2006

I live a few blocks from a major city street. On this street is a Middle Eastern grocery, a “Muslim Community Center,” an “Islamic Reading Room,” and a couple of other businesses that cater to the Muslim community. When I’m walking along this particular street, I ususally make an attempt (usually not acknowledged or returned) at eye contact and a smile to the women (I think it’s “improper” to do this with Muslim men, or improper for them…). Am I subconsciously trying to say, “Hi! I like Muslim people!”? I don’t know. I smile at little old Catholic ladies, too.

But the other day, after working myself into panicked dismay about what is going on specifically in Israel and Lebanon, and the entire Middle East more generally, I found myself cringing a bit on my walk past the community center, keeping my eyes low and quickening my pace. Strangely for this place and time, a woman walking toward me from the opposite direction flashed a big smile (or was it a grin?), while looking me in the eye (or was it a piercing stare?). It was sort of like she was still thinking about a funny joke somebody told her. Was she doing the same thing that I do – consciously or not? Was she just naturally a friendly person among a street full indifferent people? Or did I detect something a little menacing in her expression? Was she thinking, “just you wait!”? Was I just being paranoid? Either way, I felt a bit unnerved. I hate living in a world where I can’t tell these kinds of things about the people that I live among.

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Middle Eastern culture – the music, the carpets, the food, the art and architecture. I’ve always wondered about the people, about why there has been so much conflict in their places of origin. It is heartbreaking to see the continual degradation of a once magnificent culture into a living hell. I spend a lot of time looking back, trying to figure out the origin of this mess. In a recent email to a friend, I wrote this:

[I actually think that] traditions and cultural wealth have been eroded because of Islam. There is a hadith that basically says, “If your wife gives you trouble, try to get along with her, but if all else fails, it’s ok to slap her around.” Of course there are also troubling things like that in the Bible, as well. I do think, though, that Islam is a particularly difficult religion in terms of accordance with human rights. Mohammad became a campaigner, while Jesus, I don’t think, ever would have wanted his message spread in a military way (although, of course, it ultimately was, just not by him). Mohammad also, after Fatima died, married a bunch of daughters of various leaders, in an effort to consolidate power – a humble prophet he was not. I see a similarity between Islam and the South American origin myth about humans falling to earth as drops of blood from an injured warrior-god. The people (I forget their name) were, no surprise here, very warlike. When your prophet is a warrior, well…

Then, more recently, I wrote this:

What do you think of all the madness in Israel and Lebanon? I’ve dug out my old Islamic history books (“The Venture of Islam” in 3 volumes by Marshall Hodgson) to try to understand the history behind all of this. So far, I’m in the 18th century, where the West has become an increasingly powerful economic, military and political force, and “Islamdom” has made a bunch of strategic internal and external mistakes, underestimating and misunderstanding the West, while at the same time giving up more and more economic control. I like the question the author poses: can Islam be both modern and nonwestern? I have a feeling that this might be a really important idea.

Here is my friend’s response:

What do I think about Israel/Lebanon? Well, last night on the news a reporter was in an underground parking garage somewhere in southern Lebanon which is serving as a temporary shelter for displaced people. And he was talking to a girl no more than eight or nine years old, asking her what she thought of the current situation. She said, “They are killing us! They are killing children! We need to kill their children as well!” And she said it with that kind of crazed, maniacal vehemence that most people from that region seem to display, spit flying from her mouth and her eyes hard and cold as ice, and I thought, “Good grief! She’s eight years old!” So basically, I just think it seems hopeless, a vicious cycle destined to repeat itself over and over. Because the only lasting solution is to change people from the inside out, the way they see the world, the way they see themselves. And that ain’t happening. Any type of truce or ceasefire would be a very temporary solution and would be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. The problem that everyone has addressed but no one seems to have the foggiest idea what to do about is the fact that Syria and Iran are such an integral part of the problem…

I thought about this response quite a bit. She didn’t address the history, didn’t seem to worry obsessively about what caused these people to view human life in a very nonhuman way. She pointed to an indoctrinated child.

Even previous to this email exchange, in this particular case, I’ve been rethinking my usual “give peace a chance” and “there’s a root cause behind this that must be fixed” and “peace is work” mentality. How can there be peace in this situation? Right here, right now, how can there be? How can Israel put down its arms right now, when Hezbollah has been so emboldened? How can there be peace when Iran and Syria lurk in the shadows, paying Hezbollah to do their dirty work?

And that brings me to this, coming from one of the more doveish people around: I’m tired of it. It’s been going on all my life. There is no political or religious cause, no matter how wronged you believe you have been, that justifies the defilement of humanity. This must be stopped, for the sake of everyone, even if the price we pay is more dear than we can now imagine. I want the next generation in this country and around the world to feel more hopeful than the current one does today, to be able to smile at strangers with confidence and ease. Someday I hope to see news footage of a little girl, in a burka or not, smiling at the camera and expressing genuine, unmitigated joy.

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This blog really is going to be about more than climate change. Really, I swear. But it was the BIG THING on my mind (before the missiles started flying between Israel and Lebanon, anyway) when I started it. I’m going to attempt to put this topic to rest for now (at least for myself), with an examination of some of the myths and truths regarding the science of climate change, and what what the facts are (and are not).

As best as I can tell, these are the most common arguments against responding to climate change, each followed by critique and explanation:

1) We all know that the earth’s climate is cyclical in nature, and that it has been both warmer and cooler in the past than it is now.

Remember how in elementary school, your teacher told you that if a question contains even one false statement, you must mark “false” on the test? We must keep this in mind, and consider three important facts:

a) We are experiencing unprecedented warming, not just a routine incline on the graph. For instance, the “medieval warm period” is often cited as being warmer than it is today. This assertion has proved to be incorrect (and was based on such “observations” as Norwegians in Greenland and vineyards in England). It is warmer now than it was then. In fact, what has stood the test of rigorous science is the fact that the “Little Ice Age” of the 15th-19th centuries was cooler than the “cool” period of the mid-20th century.

b) The climate record of the past several thousand years shows a very small range of variability – a “warm” period can be distinguished from a “cool” period by less than a degree (think of your own body temperature – a couple of degrees is the difference between sickness and health), and both can have environmental impacts. The current warming trend is set to increase 1990 level temperatures by at least three degrees this century.

c) The climate does not change all by itself. It is changed by things. This is a common, yet flawed, understanding of the “cyclic nature” of our climate. The climate is a system that is influenced by what is happening globally – it is not some sort of moody character that changes its disposition on a whim. These occurrences and conditions that cause changes in the climate are called “forcings.”

2) Since the climate is cyclical in nature (see above), there is no way to prove that humans are causing global warming.

We should all know that “coincidence” means “the state or fact of occupying the same relative position or area in space.” When scientists and laypeople look at historic and current temperatures, and compare them to historic and current atmospheric CO2 levels, they will notice a startling thing: the graphs are nearly identical. We know that humans are responsible for this rise in carbon dioxide levels – this is fairly uncontroversial. So how do we know that more carbon dioxide causes higher temperatures, besides relying on coincidence? It’s actually pretty well established. However, if a record of 650,000 years of greenhouse gas concentrations doesn’t impress you, you can always research greenhouse gases, starting here and here.

3) CO2 is a naturally present gas, which can be absorbed in many ways by the planet. Heck, I read somewhere that more CO2 is good for plants, and will cause our agricultural yields to increase. Things will adapt.

This is one of my pet arguments “against” global warming, and the most obviously circular one that the title of this post refers to: 1) Global warming is not caused by humans (increased atmospheric CO2). 2) Even if it is, it’s probably a good thing. Which is it? We aren’t causing it, or we are?  

First off, I’m rather proud of my little analogy about human body temperature and variability. I’ll stretch it out a bit here. When you have a temperature of around 100F, you might not feel so good. “Low grade fever” is usually what we think of here. When you discover that you’re at 102, you generally feel pretty lousy. And when you are at 104 or above, it’s time to go to the hospital. Much higher than that, and the enzymes in your body will begin to denature. Can your body adapt to a 107F internal temperature? Can we just assume that plants and animals, which have evolved over many millennia of fairly constant temperatures, will be able to adapt to comparatively sudden changes in global temperature? Does this make sense, given what we know about evolution? The issue is not a very gradual warming over a very long time – that we could probably handle. It is the rate of warming that we need to be concerned about. Sudden changes are not so easily adapted to and, contrary to what it seems, three degrees in a century is sudden. Many of the mass extinctions in history have been attributed to rather sudden changes in climate (before you think, “See! You’re proving my point about the natural cycles of the climate!” please see here).

We know that our current plants have evolved with a fairly constant level of atmospheric CO2. We also know that plants absorb CO2. Many people use this information (and a “more is better” mentality) to postulate that more CO2 is good for plants and will help them grow better, meaning a boon for agriculture. However, this is another case of things being more complicated than they seem, with recent studies indicating that increased CO2 levels will not increase crop yields, and will actually result in less nutrient-rich yields. 

4) Besides, it would be devastating to the economy to put measures in place to reduce CO2 emissions. The economy is more of an immediate concern than the environment.

This one, for me anyway, causes a dumbfounded, “Huh?!?” kind of reaction. But that, of course, is not very scientific, so let’s inject some common sense: Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource. Eventually we will need to develop an economy based on different sources of energy. How far away is “eventually”? I don’t have an answer for that, but given that we are nearing or have arrived at peak oil, I am inclined to think that it is necessary to immediately begin aggressively pursuing alternative fuel sources. I have used this quote in another post:

But in my view, tackling global warming is extremely unlikely to damage the American economy. What’s required is another industrial revolution. America is rather good at these. Britain led the first (coal and steam), but America has pioneered the rest (the internal combustion engine, telecommunications, computers). Each one only adds to our prosperity, and it will be the same once again.

But there is an important difference from previous industrial revolutions. This one requires political leadership; the market on its own won’t do it. As an Englishman I am often impatient with the notion of America as “the indispensable nation,” but on this occasion I think that it is. To combat global warming, the world desperately needs U.S. leadership.

While I am fairly pessimistic about our willingness to pioneer a new fuel revolution in time, I do think that if we had the will, we could accomplish it, to the benefit of the economy, the environment, and our health. Why do we so closely link consumerism and material wealth with happiness (more on that in another post)? How can the economy be more important than the health of the planet, our only viable address? Why do people think like this? Why can’t we see this as an exciting new challenge, rather than a foregone impossibility?

5) And, by the way, this whole global warming panic is being promulgated by a bunch of liberal commies who just want to scare people into adopting their anti-capitalist ideology. These people scared us in the ’70s, only that time we were facing another ice age.

I cannot speak for political ideology in this debate, as I attempt to steer clear of -isms. However, I do acknowledge that the implications of the science are sobering and yes, a little frightening, in their own right and without comment. I happen to believe that people tend to operate as crisis managers, resisting change until there is no other option. The “alarmists,” it seems to me, are not hoping that the earth will descend into environmental apocalypse – they are trying, as best they know how, to raise awareness to bring about change. What concerns me about people like Senator Inhofe and others who deny the reality and urgency of this issue, is that people who are looking for an excuse for complacency actively search out contrary “evidence” to put their minds at ease. It is interesting to note that much of the skepticism about global warming is reactionary, emotional and incredulous (I reference the the latter link as a common example of citing, in particular, two – and only two – climate scientists, John Christy and Richard Lindzen, in an attempt to downplay the reality of anthropogenic climate change). Interestingly, however, both Christy and Lindzen acknowledge that global warming is real, and is in part caused by human activity (oh, the power of agenda-driven quote mining!) The links above provide more information on this.

Finally, as for the “alarmists” of the 1970s, thankfully others  have taken on this task and you can read the piece below, and browse through contemporary scientific publications to see for yourself what the scientific community was saying.

The state of the science at the time (say, the mid 1970’s), based on reading the papers is, in summary: “…we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate…” (which is taken directly from NAS, 1975). In a bit more detail, people were aware of various forcing mechanisms – the ice age cycle; CO2 warming; aerosol cooling – but didn’t know which would be dominant in the near future. By the end of the 1970’s, though, it had become clear that CO2 warming would probably be dominant; that conclusion has subsequently strengthened.

 What do I make of all of this? Honestly, I’m not sure that drastically reducing CO2 emissions will be the great cure-all for our environmental problems. I think the fundamental issue is how we view our environment – right now, with few exceptions, it’s simply a moneymaker, something to be exploited. I also think that, deep down, we have a collective sense of guilt, but aren’t sure how to reverse a centuries old mentality – it is madness to deny that human beings have had a detrimental effect on the planet. One of my favorite lines concerning our relationship with the earth is, “woe to the creature that soils its own nest” (author unknown). Here are a few more:

The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope” ~Wendell Berry

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. ~Albert Einstein

After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager.’ ~William S. Burroughs

Environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option…they will become a necessity. ~Fujio Cho, President of Toyota Motors

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money. ~Cree Proverb  

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. ~Aldo Leopold

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water. ~Benjamin Franklin

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On a July 28, 2003 senate floor speech, Senator John Inhofe suggested that global warming is “[t]he greatest hoax perpetuated on the American people.” This became an assertion on his January 4, 2005 “Climate Change Update” in which he relies partly on Michael Crichton’s fictional novel, State of Fear, in an attempt to debunk the reality of climate change. For critical analysis of this speech, click here and here.

I’ll leave the science itself aside for now. What I would like to point out is Inhofe’s clear lack of objectivity and respect for science on this subject. He has done what I most detest in debate: he has formed his opinion first, and then looked for the “science” to back him up. He was “happy to report” that Chrichton’s book was on the NY Times bestseller list. He judges from the “welcome success” of the book that the “real story” behind global warming is reaching the American public. He consideres man-made global warming to be “an article of religious faith,” and dismisses the “scientific consensus” as “alarmist.” Inhofe turns on its head the idea of people historically questioning (and murdering) scientists who reject a religious worldview:

This is, it seems to me, highly ironic: aren’t scientists supposed to be non-conforming and question consensus? Nevertheless, it’s not hard to read between the lines: “skeptic” and “out of the mainstream” are thinly veiled code phrases, meaning anyone who doubts alarmist orthodoxy is, in short, a quack.

This is strangely out of synch with the reality that the idea of global warming was unpopular years ago, and only fairly recently have the “quacks” become the “mainstream” in terms of support within the scientific community. This is a case of people finally coming around, of advances in science supporting what the “quacks” have been saying all along. Inhofe has it backward.

More recently, Inhofe has responded with press releases to both Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and to the Discovery Channel’s special, “Global Warming: What You Need to Know,”  hosted by Tom Brokaw. In the former release, Inhofe ignores the overall scope of the documentary, and instead picks at details. He refers to Dr. Michael Mann’s “now discredited ‘hockey stick,'” a record of past temperatures that has been controversial, but is far from discredited. Other independent studies have produced nearly identical results. Interestingly, in every Inhofe document I’ve read, Michael Mann is the only scientist he targets by name who supports the theory of global warming (everyone else in the non-skeptic scientific community is labeled as “alarmists” and purveyors of “bad science”). I’m not sure what to make of this.

In his release responding to Tom Brokaw and the Discovery Channel special, Inhofe challenges Brokaw’s objectivity because of his “reliance on scientists who openly endorsed Democrat Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and who are financially affiliated with left wing environmental groups.” Scientific American’s blog has this to say about that:

These few remaining skeptics, led by Senator James Inhofe, impugn Mr. Brokaw’s objectivity by noting in a press release that he nearly got a job in the Clinton cabinet and that two of the scientists he interviews actively supported John Kerry in the last presidential election. He also points to James Hansen’s article in our March 2004 issue as a confession of just such a manipulation. Unfortunately that confession seems to be missing from the actual article.

I would like to point out that while in office Inhofe has received over one million dollars in contributions from the energy and natural resources sector. Hm.

Science is very different from journalism. The American public has come to demand a certain level of objectivity in news reporting – it wants both sides of the story. The problem with this is that, in science, there often aren’t two sides. The earth really is round, and to give print space to, say, the Flat Earth Society, would be a waste. In science, the line between objectivity and subjectivity is in a different place than it is in journalism. The “we don’t know how this works” pile is separate from the “we know this for sure and we can prove it” pile. While there are still questions about the effects and severity of global warming, the fact that it is happening, and that human activity is a factor, goes in the “we can prove it” pile. It’s time to use what we know to take action. 

James Inhofe is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Judging from the majority press releases, it’s pretty clear that the committee is hostile to the reality of global warming. However, digging a little deeper, one can see that the ‘majority’ does not necessarily mean ‘majority opinion.’ The following statements have been made by fellow committee members:

Along similar lines, in an effort to protect the public from the dangerous trend of global warming, I have actively supported initiatives to cap carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, and legislation to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation, industrial, and commercial sectors. ~Senator Lincoln Chaffe (R-RI)

In their June 30 letter accepting the invitation to join the Dialogue, Lieberman and McCain wrote: “We believe it is important for legislators, business leaders and public interest organizations from the G8 and +5 nations to come together outside of formal negotiating structures to discuss a post-2012 International agreement to curb global warming.”

“It is with great pleasure we accept your kind invitation to join the Legislators Forum of the G8+5 Climate Change Dialogue,” they continued. “We will support the Forum’s efforts to generate productive ideas and exert a positive influence on the inter-governmental negotiations over a global response to climate change. We look forward to the Dialogue’s February 2007 meeting here in Washington D.C.”  ~July 7, 2006 press release.

It is high time to stop relying on technicalities and finger pointing to avoid action on climate change. Science tells us we must begin to act soon if we are to have a chance of minimizing the growing effects of climate change. ~Excerpt from Senator Jim Jeffords’ (I-VT) reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to review the Clean Air Act case regarding CO2 emissions.

As the ranking member of the Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety subcommittee, I have advocated for stronger clean air laws and have urged Congress to do something about global warming which stands as probably our greatest environmental challenge of the 21 st Century. ~Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).

Click here for a full list of committee members.

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I spend a lot of time imagining what the future will bring. Being wholly convinced that we are facing major changes on at least two fronts (military conflict and environmental degradation, and the related consequences), I am naturally inclined to entertain nighmarish apocalyptic scenarios. However, I find the need to continually question my instincts and a fairly dim view of humanity’s capability to forge a better future for itself. I’ve come to believe that we must transcend our current situation, not just change direction or tweak things here and there, in order to avoid catastrophe.

People throughout history have generally viewed their particular time as more dangerous, with the most at stake, than any other previous era. I think this has always been true – we are working our way, very quickly, to a global, or planetary society (distinct, of course, from culture). We are discovering the interconnectedness of everything, the way systems (political, biological, technological, etc.) seem to have the tendency to become more and more complex. 

Not only does social complexity and the extent of spatial connectedness increase from one epoch to the next, so does the pace of change. Just as historical transitions occur more rapidly than natural evolutionary transitions, historical transitions are accelerating. This is illustrated in Figure 2 [p.16], which represents schematically the evolution of complexity of the four major historical phases. Since the time-axis is logarithmic, the repetitive pattern suggests that change is accelerating in a regular fashion. The duration of successive eras decreases by roughly a factor of ten—the Stone Age lasted roughly 100,000 years, Early Civilization about 10,000 years and the Modern Era some 1,000 years. Curiously, if the transition to a Planetary Phase takes about 100 years (a reasonable hypothesis, we shall argue) the pattern would continue.

As a result of the observed increased pace of change, we can expect to see vast changes within our lifetimes. What will happen? Will this be an adventure, a bumpy nailbiter but ultimately a great human success story? Will we be able to identify and choose the correct path in time?

To learn about the Global Scenario Group and their work, click here. The long PDF, “The Great Transition,” is fascinating and well worth the time.

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As a frequenter of conservative blogs, I’ve noticed a lot of flags and patriotic declarations. If you’re trying to convince others of your true-believing, die-hard, take-no-prisoners brand of patriotism, what would you do? WAVE LOTS OF FLAGS! It seems to me to be a reaction to a perceived threat, a brand of defiant nationalism that pops up during times of trouble. The problem with this, though, is the desire to distinguish oneself from others, as in, “I have more flags than you; therefore, I am more patriotic.” Or, even more troubling, “You have criticized our government. Therefore, you are anti-American.” Yes, this is a simplification of the debate, but we all are well familiar with it.

My fear is that this kind of sentiment (“WE are True Americans, while YOU are just a bunch of liberal communists who are gleefully cheering for the failure of America.”) doesn’t allow for rational debate. Some might roll their eyes, figuring it a waste of time to even respond to this kind of thing. On the other hand, I’m inclined to say, “Wait a minute! I need to correct you on that!” Flamboyant displays of patriotism may well be sincere, but the absence of such does in no way indicate anti-Americanism. It’s time to reframe the debate. This Chicago Tribune article identifies the problem with allowing others to define terms and to judge moral superiority. Here is an excerpt:

[George Lakoff] makes a very persuasive argument that Democrats have allowed Republicans to hijack words such as “freedom” and “liberty” in fundamental ways that have undercut Democrats’ credibility. His latest book, “Whose Freedom? The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea,” builds on earlier works that urge progressives to stop getting their pockets picked by Republicans over issues in which, he says, progressives actually hold the higher moral ground.

Lakoff contends that Republicans not only have taken ownership of words, they also have skillfully succeeded in framing the debate. That has trapped Democrats into being reactive, implicitly buying into the GOP framework and almost dooming them to failure.

Consider the war in Iraq. Republicans have adroitly labeled Democratic calls for troop pullbacks as “cut and run.” So how did Democrats respond? With John Kerry saying that the Bush strategy is “lie and die.”

Instead, Lakoff says, Democrats must change the nature of the debate, starting by rejecting the premise that America is in fact at war. The war, he says, ended when President Bush said it did with his “Mission Accomplished” stunt on an aircraft carrier. Now, Democrats should refer to the conflict as an occupation. They should say U.S. troops were not trained to be occupiers and that they were betrayed by administration policy, with the U.S. weakened as a result.

Lakoff makes a similar point about the “war on terror.” Terrorism, he says, should be fought in the same way the government went after the Mafia.

Right or wrong, no prominent Democrat has adopted Lakoff’s proposed framing. That hasn’t stopped him from making the rounds in Washington, urging Democrats to take heed.

He is a one-man army for the counterintuitive. Democrats, he says, are an anti-intellectual party. It is Republicans, he says, who support conservative intellectuals with many think tanks and interest groups to promote a conservative agenda.

Republicans, he adds, actually control the media. They reinforce Bush’s positions and use radio, television and the Internet to create an amen chorus before Democrats can even deliver a compelling sermon.

Democrats, he says, need to become framers.

Lakoff says the Democratic message needs to be something like this: Republicans oppress people when they can’t eat the fish they catch because of water pollution, when kids get asthma because of bad air, when ranchers can’t let cattle drink the water in the streams that run through their land, all because of lax regulation. And don’t make the mistake of labeling yourself an environmentalist.

Lakoff likens the GOP orthodoxy as offered by Bush to a “strict father” mentality with a stark and unambiguous view of right and wrong. Democrats offer more a “nurturant parent” who is empathetic and looks at things in context.

Democrats, he says, need to start framing with core convictions and not with calibrations to try to win over converts.

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In my ongoing search for a logical explanation as to why some people continue to debate the reality of global warming, I found this at Nova’s website:

There is a third reason why people reject the idea of man-made climate change. It is my observation that on the whole people tend to believe what is convenient to them. Faced with a choice between an awkward fact and a comforting fiction, most people will take the fiction any day. And global warming is certainly inconvenient. Just when we have finally freed ourselves from the tedium of tilling the earth and gotten nice and comfortable with a big TV, central heating, cheap flights to exotic destinations, and an armor-plated all-terrain vehicle for nipping down to the mall, along come some bloody scientists to tell us that we can’t go on as we are and as we like doing.

I have a sneaking sympathy for those conservatives who seem to regard the greenhouse effect as an unwarranted interference with the workings of the free-market economy. But as a bit of a political conservative myself, I have always thought that the guiding spirit of conservatism was the determination to see the world as it really is, to cast away the rose-tinted spectacles. Global warming is nothing less than a fact, and it has to be faced.

In my experience, these skeptics of the third kind are much more prevalent in the USA than in Europe. I think this may be partly to do with a particularly American attitude to money. American rhetoric tends to present prosperity as the natural consequence of political freedom. Like democracy, it becomes a moral good in its own right. Anyone who seems to question the wisdom of unconstrained economic growth risks appearing un-American, if not downright immoral.

Taking the lead

But in my view, tackling global warming is extremely unlikely to damage the American economy. What’s required is another industrial revolution. America is rather good at these. Britain led the first (coal and steam), but America has pioneered the rest (the internal combustion engine, telecommunications, computers). Each one only adds to our prosperity, and it will be the same once again.

But there is an important difference from previous industrial revolutions. This one requires political leadership; the market on its own won’t do it. As an Englishman I am often impatient with the notion of America as “the indispensable nation,” but on this occasion I think that it is. To combat global warming, the world desperately needs U.S. leadership.

I am optimistic enough to believe that we won’t have to wait much longer. The pace of global warming is now quickening to the point where it will soon be obvious to everyone. When you can discuss the question sitting at a pavement café in London in November in your shirtsleeves, you just know something is up, and all skepticism becomes moot.

For more on the science of global warming, click here.

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