Freezing Our Way to a Fiery Hell?

Psalms of lament are being sent heavenward this winter. Like a kid, I’m hoping for a snow day today. The forecasters have gone apocalyptic again with inches of white fluff expected overnight. I wake at dawn and pull back the curtain, but not a flake has fallen.

This winter has been like that. The south digs out from yet another snowstorm. Boston has drifts that could bury a yeti. The blizzard of the century last month may have missed us New Yorkers by an order of two or three states, but it has been very cold—and those of us in the commuting crowd have learned new applications for the word “endurance.”

It was only a matter of time before the remark would be heard. Perhaps you know the one I mean. An anonymous guy sitting on the bus, as it turns out, this time.  “They say there’s global warming. It sure doesn’t feel warmer to me.” Every year I hear this quip and every year I wish that science didn’t have to contend with politics in what is really, at heart, an ethical conflict.

Scientists are not good at naming things. Consider that most fossils bear Latinate names that the average tongue can’t tackle. Who knows how to tell an up quark from a down quark? I still think a Quasar is a refrigerator. “Global warming,” while as much a fact as evolution, is nevertheless a technically correct term. The world is warming up and everyone but the petroleum and coal industries understand that it’s because of human activity.

The world, however, is an awfully big place. We have trouble seeing the entire picture. So now we’re calling it “climate change” instead. For better or for worse?

Since Quasar refrigerators have already come up, perhaps it’s no surprise that Jurassic Park feels contemporary to me. The scene where Dr. Ian Malcolm explains chaos as a butterfly flapping its wings in Peking and causing rain in Central Park. That’s global warming. Just because it’s colder here doesn’t mean the whole place isn’t heading toward Hell. The data don’t lie, and that’s the course we’ve charted.

Why doesn’t the alarm stay high on global warming (excuse me, climate change)?  Read a book about the state of the environment, this one perhaps. If my experience is anything like normative, your blood pressure will go up. When you put the book down you’ll be as zealous as a martyr in first-century Rome. Something must be done!

But by the time I step off the bus my mind will be back to something the boss said yesterday. Or the fact that I’ve got to take the car in for an oil change. Or that taxes are going to be due soon. And the world warms.

Global warming is already changing our lives. The science of climatology seconds the fictional Dr. Malcolm’s observation about chaos—everything affects everything else.  The earth’s atmosphere is so complex that overeducated scientists still get the weather forecast wrong. For somebody who can’t even balance his checkbook, the math looks worse than its effects. The atmosphere, where traditional Judeo-Christian outlooks places God’s dwelling, is every bit as chaotic as Leviathan. We can’t control it. We don’t even understand it. Yet we boldly pollute it.

It looks like it won’t be a snow day after all.

So why doesn’t the alarm last? Perhaps it’s because global thinking is difficult. Our daily lives are filled with local pressures—it’s hard enough to get by just here, just now. In the back of my mind I know that the rest of the world is out there, and that by participating in the only lifestyle I know I’m contributing to the problem.  It’s a long commute to New York City, but even on a bus I contribute as the plate is passed every day. Carbon emissions get me to work, along with thousands and thousands of others. It’s a chaotic system.

For businesses tied to the weather-closing status of the New York City Public Schools, there’s yet another ethical element.  During one of New York’s worst storms—last year—Mayor de Blasio kept the schools open in horrendous travel conditions.  One of the reasons given? Many children get their only hot meal of the day at school. We have to force kids to school so they can eat a square meal? And Zuccotti Park was cleared out years ago. A city like New York, with both ostentatious wealth and profound inequality, is part of a chaotic system. Are we using our schools to educate or to shelter our privilege?

And I thought the atmosphere was chaotic.

Change is possible. We are now, slowly, wising up to the evils of social prejudice. We are even more globally aware in that respect. My wish for a snow day is only local. But a snow day here is connected to warmer polar temperatures that affect everyone. Why don’t I think of the rest of the world when I’m dressing like an Inuit to wait for the bus?

I need to turn my eyes to the sky. The world is the one thing we all share and the atmosphere covers us all. Unless we can sustain our concern over global warming, snow days will become mere memories of a more temperate past.

For now I have to get to work.


Photo of NYC blizzard by flickr user Sarah_Ackerman via Creative Commons.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    There are serious downsides to global warming. The easy fix for global warming is for the nation to get serious about non-fossil fuel energy sources and invest in developing them. The problem with making that commitment is there is also some serious upsides to global warming that we would have to deal with.

    The biggest and most obvious is the hundred trillion more dollars of profit that could be made from oil and gas still in the ground, and if we develop cheap energy that would be lost. It would be good for most of us, but for the few who want that hundred trillion it would be bad, and they will work hard to protect their potential profit. Harder than the rest of us will work for a solution.

    The next reason to want global warming is it could be considered as another sign that we are near the end, religiously speaking. To some this is a good thing.

    Another reason to be in favor of global warming is those in and around the artic who can profit from mining and oil when the ice is gone.

    Solving global warming by solving the energy problem would take some work, and the oil industry probably has it covered to prevent that. They are like rich people in general, the richer they get, the more they want to get even more rich, and we don’t have the heart to stop them. We might need some kind of plan B, like go to Mars and start over.

  •' Steve Wiggins says:

    Well said, Jim!

    The will just doesn’t seem to be there among those who pay the price. I’m amazed how easy it is for big energy interests to have their way with the world. It seems to me the sides of this coin are definitely not equal.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Beyond big energy, rich interests in general seem to be having their way with us,

  •' Steve Wiggins says:

    Agreed, Jim. Unshared wealth harms everyone involved, I believe. I quite frequently address plutocracy on my blog. I just can’t understand why we don’t maintain our anger at the unfairness of the situation. Our primate nature should ensure that much at least.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Anger, but to me it is a question of anger at who? I don’t think you can get that angry at the Republican party. They are the party of the rich, and are only doing what they can for greed. This is perfectly understandable. I am angry at Christianity because the social conservatives have been electing the fiscal conservatives and giving them the power to feed that greed. And the thing that makes me most angry of all is the Christians seem to be doing this at some level as a part of the end times doctrine. They know if the Democrats are in power they will not get the wars they need for end times.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    There was a recent report that in a few years, like from 2010 to 2012, sea level on the eastern coast rose a few inches. Some issues with sea currents were involved with water piling up here, but still, that is frightening. If most of Florida is at sea level, and much of it below sea level, what will happen to property values when the state floods?

  •' Veritas says:

    These comments miss a few important things; Developing non fossil fuel energy sources is a great idea, but subsidizing it at the expense of cheaper alternatives has a cost. When prices go up, the ones who suffer are the poorest among us. That spread world wide in scope means, unfortunately, that people starve in order to stop climate change. (The people in the third world are more concerned with feeding their population than the long term effects of the climate. ). This has already been played out with ethanol rising the cost of food for the world food program, which could not meet its goals due to increased prices (I’m not even broaching the deforestation of the Amazon that accelerated in order to raise more sugar cane)

    The greed of the rich exists to be sure, but this is clearly not the only sin at play, as corrupt governments are the rule the world over. Envy of the rich by those with less means is as big a sin in the play of distribution of resources, and it certainly does nothing for the salvation of the rich to have what they possess, through whatever means, taken from them by force. Appeals to charity and the common good, if accepted by the wealthy, are more in line with how Jesus preached. It is an obviously complex problem without a simple solution, especially in a world where unilateral action will accomplish nothing to mitigate the problem, and nothing short of complete cooperation will work (don’t hold your breath waiting for China to do anything if they are willing to tolerate air that can’t even be inhaled)

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Ethanol and sugar cane never seemed like solutions to the energy problem. Answers are solar, wind, water, geothermal, nuclear. The problem with the rich is they have tilted the playing field to where they are paying record low taxes. The nation as a whole did much better when they were paying more taxes. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

  •' Steve Wiggins says:

    Thanks, Veritas. I’m not suggesting this is the whole picture, but there is no doubt much greed and grief behind those who deny global warming. The studies on it are terrifying, to say the least. And when the results really start to kick in, everyone, no matter where they are, will be impacted. Gives me pause for thought.

  •' Veritas says:

    Ethanol was celebrated as a great renewable fuel source until we tried it and found out all the consequences that we didn’t think through…well, at least the things that were hushed up by the right lobbying groups. Wind and solar have their problems such as migratory birds, but where is the Audubon society? They are silent… Nuclear is the evil incarnate to environmentalists…. These all should have a place, but for people with their own interests.

    As for Jesus, this was posted on religion dispatches, so I commented on the moral implications of what we do. Certainly this side of the debate is consequential, as it must be whenever we determine public policy

  •' Veritas says:

    There is greed on both sides of this debate… Those who would lose profit by limiting fossil fuels, but also the researchers whose grant money comes from either side of the debate. Scientists are as subject to human nature as businessmen and politicians. Speaking of politicians, they will benefit the most, with political control comes favors, contributions, cronies and all graft and corruption. If you doubt this look at the richest people in the world…. Chinese communist party officials, Putin, Chavez was a billionaire, the Clintons didn’t make millions for there foundation working for mother Theresa, and how about Dick Cheney and Al Gore? All involved here deserve a healthy dose of skepticism, on both sides. The answer is complex, but ” follow the money was never more true.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Animals had trouble when we built our roads and highway systems, but they seem to kind of have adapted through the years. I think the birds will survive too. Evil incarnate is not necessarily a bad thing if it solves the problem and any side effects are way less than from burning fossil fuels.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Big oil has big money. I am not sure how you would find much money to oppose them. Perhaps some money from a few who want to save the planet, but they are not going to compete with the big money. Also, scientists have to be concerned with following truth, unless they are working for Republican science.

  •' Steve Wiggins says:

    This is a good illustration, Jim. On my blog I mentioned that Hurricane Sandy became “Superstorm Sandy” because of the property damage it caused to the affluent. Hurricane Katrina, however, remains just a hurricane.

  •' Loran says:

    The Arctic is not warming, and never has been, not in our lifetimes. There was warming in the Arctic, and fairly substantial, in the early 20th century, but the general trend since at least the 1950s has been a slight cooling trend, exacerbated by the much more palpable planetary cooling that set in after 2002, after warming ceased entirely, as far as empirical data goes, in 1998 (with no statistical warming at all since 1995).

    In fact, radiosonde measurements and satellite data have never shown anything approaching the warming trend predicted by (the now long discredited) CGMs; the models have been consistently and egregiously wrong in virtually each and every prediction they’ve been used to make and, as of yet, not a shred of empirical, observational, verifiable, quantifiable evidence has yet been brought forward that supports the DAGW thesis. Radiosonde and satellite measurements have never shown the warming the UHI-polluted and southern latitude-biased ground-based measurements have, nor do the known laws of physics governing CO2’s heat-trapping capacity, or any paleoclimate data regarding the nature of planetary warming-cooling cycles (and sub-cycles, superimposed over one another on decadal, centennial, millennial, and multi-millennial timescales) lend any support to climate alarmist claims.

    The entire edifice is is the creation of computer modeling – which is not the doing of scientific research – not of empirical field science or the gathering of empirical data and letting it speak for itself. The rest of the AGW movement is purely ideological and political in nature, and has no scientific basis at all, nor was it ever intended to save in the form of a glossy veneer – a neo-Lysenkoist man-behind-the-curtain – to the masses who have passed through the American public school system and been raised on a steady diet of mainstream media infotainment.

  •' Loran says:

    “Evil incarnate is not necessarily a bad thing if it solves the problem and any side effects are way less than from burning fossil fuels.”

    As Stalin said, to make an omelet, we will have to break some eggs. I wonder how many more human sacrifices to Gaia there will be before this madness comes to an end?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Fossil fuels are a dead end. Eventually nuclear power is going to work well. The only way to eliminate sacrifices to Gaia is for us to limit population of earth to well below what it is now, but the only ways we know to do that involve even bigger sacrifices.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The ocean is getting warmer, and that is where most of the heat is stored up. That means global warming.

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