Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mixed messages

The lead item in the "Talk of the Town" section in this week's New Yorker discusses the growing body of evidence that global warming is a reality. It reports that Antarctica is losing ice and this past summer the Arctic ice cap had shrunk to the smallest area ever recorded.

The piece proceeds to report other ominous signs and then offers the conservative response to global warming, quoting the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online.

From the Journal:

The problems associated with climate change (whether man-made or natural) are the same old problems of poverty, disease, and natural hazards like floods, storms, and spent on these problems is a much surer bet than money spent trying to control a climate change process we don't understand.
And from the National Review Online:
We can do more to help the poor by combating these problems now than we would be reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
To which the New Yorker responds:
The beauty of this argument is its apparent high-mindedness, and this, of coruse, is also its danger. Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas--it lasts for about a century--and once released into the atmosphere it is, for all practical purposes, irrecoverable. Since every extra increment of CO2 leads to extra warming, addressing the effects of climate change without dealing with the cause is a bit like trying to treat diabetes with doughnuts. The climate isn't going to change just once, and then settle down; unless CO2 concentrations are stabilized, it will keep on changing, producing, in addition to the "same old problems," an ever-growing array of new ones.
So the message is clear: We need to cease adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

Sixteen pages before that piece appears a can't-miss ad for the new 320-horsepower V8 Infiniti FX. On a 12-page insert, the reader is told relentlessly that this "SUV inspired by sports car design" is a marvel. The vehicle is "accentuated by distinctive, dynamic features that exemplify both elegance and power." It has a "muscular stance." It's "Brave. By Design."

The message is clear: We need to buy this vehicle which gets 18 mpg on the highway and add a big 'ol heap of CO2 to the atmosphere.


At 9:55 AM, Blogger Greg Pultorak said...

Tree Huggers like you get me angry when you attack SUVs and cite global warming as the reason. Consider this from last month's National Geographic:

"Coal-burning power plants supply the United States with half its electricity. They gush as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as America's cars, trucks, buses, and planes combined."

Do you honestly think people's decision to buy SUVs over automobiles has a god damn thing to do with global warming? Get a grip.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Brett said...

The problem with the human race is that we are incapable of acknowledging/taking responsibility for the fact that we are responsible for the destruction of our planet. From killing myriad species off the face of the earth, polluting the waters and air, to the more mundane and frequently overlooked overconsumption of resources because of greed and envy, and propegation of ignorance and intolerance that feeds war, poverty, and alienation - humans do not accept the blame for any of it.

It is absurd. Just because you don't accept responsibility for the consequences of your choices and actions does not mean that they don't exist. It is as if there is a subconscious, instinctive need to overconsume beyond our needs, because subconsciously we know that it cannot last, and we don't want to be left behind or miss the opportunity.

It's what drove the Easter Islanders to chop down the last tree on their islands, drove the Russian and Asian fishermen to kill the last of the Stellar Sea Cows and nearly the last of a variety of seals and sea lions in Alaska and the Pacific, drove the Canadians, Americans, and Europeans to virtually eliminate cod from the North Atlantic... I could go on. No one said "I am contributing to the problem," regardless of how small a role they played. They said "If I don't take advantage, someone else will, and why should I have to go without."

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Pete said...

That's just asinine Greg.

So you're saying that because SUVs do less damage than coal burning, we should ignore the carbon-dioxide contributions cars make to global warming.

SUVs are part of the problem.

I can only hope you wrote your screed as a joke in an attempt to rankle Eye of the Storm's well-known bleeding heart.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Greg Pultorak said...

I never denied responsibility for global warming. I just think the amount of attention paid to SUVs is disproportionate to the amount of damage they cause. Extremely disproportionate. I posited coal as only ONE example of the real problems causing global warming as opposed to SUV purchases.

And while I ackwoledge that SUVs are a part of the problem, so is humam respiration. Where are the attacks on medicinal ads in magazines prolonging peoples lives adding to C0(2) production?

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Brett said...

For me, it isn't whether SUVs do or do not contribute radically to the problem as compared to other aspects of our society - it is that they represent par excellence the excess consumption and rampant consumerism that is destroying the planet.

If everyone in India and China wanted a typical American lifestyle (I'm not saying they do, but we are also excellent at exporting our vision of what constitutes "success") and they want SUVs rather than SmartCars - regardless of the practicality for their particular situation, well then we are in for a heap o' trouble.

Again, it is not the SUV itself - but the massive waste of resources and societal overconsumption at any cost that they represent that grates on the nerves of those sensitive to man's impact on his surroundings

Certain things are choices, and certain things are necessities. An SUV sucking 18 mpg is probably not a necesity for the vast majority of owners - but their vanity and societal messages suggests otherwise. If SUV owners had to pay the true cost of ownership (which admittedly no industry does - mining being a prime example) I imagine that the choices would be significantly swayed for many.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Greg Pultorak said...

Since you see SUVs as excessive: How do you transport your children from place to place? From your comments about SmartCars I know you don't have children. First of all, SmartCars aren't available for sale in the US. Secondly, because of draconian safety laws enacted by liberal facists (this is getting a bit too much fun for me now) children much ride in rear facing safety seats which would never fit in a StupidCar under any scenario.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Ed said...

Human respiration, or any mammal's respiration for that matter, does not contribute to global warming. In order to create carbon dioxide, we must consume carbon. We comsume carbon in the form of plants, or animals that have consumed plants. Plants get their carbon by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is closed system, that is why carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have remained fairly steady over time even with fluctuating populations on Earth. Only when humans started burning fossil fuels during the Industrial Revolution did levels rise significantly. The system was no longer closed, no longer natural.

Speaking of "draconian" laws, fuel efficiency standards have not been raised for 20 years, and even then it did not effect trucks. SUV's fall under the category of light truck, and therefore are exempt from any sort of modern fuel efficiency standard. Technology exists to increase efficiency in SUV's and cars alike, but the car manufacturers care only about their profits. That is why it is the job of the government to enact laws for the good of the people, not the good of the corporation. Our goverment has failed in this responsibility for too long.

What is wrong with SUV's represents what is wrong with our entire position on global warming emissions. The same can be said about coal fired power plants, but SUV's are more common in our everyday life, and purchasing one is something the average person has more power over. That is why SUV's have become a rallying point for people who feel strongly about reducing hazardous emissions.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Greg Pultorak said...

We have intelligent life on earth! As for the closed loop argument... The population of humans has grown exponetional while groundcover is being reduced (see save the rainforest causes) so, the loop is not closed as you mention.

Secondly, the assertion the the technology exists to make vehicle more fuel effiecnt is just flat wrong. If a company was able to produce a vehicle with sigfificant gains in fuel economy w/o harshly affecting the cost of new vehciles they would do so in a heartbeat.

The reality is that new vehichle cost would be driven up significantly and would affect middle class suburbanite families the hardest (the enemy of all the urban elite)

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Brett said...

Picking at the particularities of what car I drive, what cars are or aren't available in the US, or what my family size is simply distracts from the real issue that people (in general) are unwilling to sacrifice the luxury non-necessities they feel they "need" in order to conduct their lives in order to reduce the rampant overconsumption of resources in our lives. No one needs an SUV - familes got by for hundreds of years without SUVs, they could certainly survive without them. It is modern society and big business sending the cultural impulses that make people believe that if you have a kid, you must have an SUV to transport them to soccer practice or else you are a) poor (a label worse than death in our consumption-centric culture), b)endangering the safety of your children, or c) a hippie granola-eating non-conformist who clearly hasn't gotten out of the 60s.

Try reading Collapse by Jared Diamond. It isn't a perfect book and his conclusions about what cause particular societies to collapse may not be 100% accurate. However, the general message that we cannot continue to endlessly consume the resources of this planet or we will drive ourselves to extinction (or at least a severely limited quality of life) is powerful.


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