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Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Getting the plot . . ."

It always faintly surprises me when people who are highly intelligent fail to grasp a point.

Last night I was chatting with just such a gentleman, a long-time friend of mine (and a very dear one), and I happened to mention the astonishingly severe winter snowstorm that has swept southern China, where I used to live. He said he had seen something about it on the news, then added, sarcastically, "Global warming, huh???"

He's one of the folks who think the entire idea is nonsense, incorrectly interpreting the scientific notion to mean that every single point on good ol' Terra would have to be hotting up for it to be valid.

That's not what scientists -- in increasing numbers -- are saying. They're saying the average temps are increasing, but in some places that means colder. It's a parallel phenomenom, according to scientists, to El Nino and La Nina, which bring warmer temps to some places and colder ones to others, as well as drier weather here and wetter weather there.

Regarding the counter-argument that the planet has warmed and cooled in the past, yes, that's absolutely true, if the geological evidence is to be believed. However, let's consider as one example the end of the Last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. As that age came to an end, the entire Earth warmed, on average. However, the evidence shows that it took some 4,000 or so years for temperatures to rise to the average that prevailed in the mid-1800's -- since when, the average global temperature has warmed the same amount or more again. In about 150 years, not 4,000. There clearly is something else at work.

Could that "something else" be natural? Well, yes, of course it could. But it's hard to swallow the idea that the vast majority of the world's scientists whose specialties touch upon the subject in one way or the other and who say much of the global warming is caused by human activity are dead wrong. Whatever one may think of Al Gore, he hit the nail on the head when he chose the title for his book, "An Inconvenient Truth."

I remember when I was a teenager and could buy gas for as cheap as $.13 per gallon. That's not a typo: 13 cents per gallon. I had a friend who was an early-on tree-hugger who kept saying we would live to remember the days 'o plenty and miss them when we were paying two or three bucks per gallon. I, along with everybody else, pooh-poohed her as being nonsensical, even downright stupid. She also argued we were screwing the planet up right good and proper.

Well, it seems to me she got it right.

Right here in Bangkok I've spoken with numerous older Thais who fondly remember the days when the capital's air was clean and khlongs -- canals -- criss-crossed the city. Today, the air is filthy virtually everyday, thanks in part to vastly more cars than before and ditto industrial estates spewing smoke into the air. And the canals are almost entirely gone, filled in for whatever purpose.

Now, don't misunderstand me: I'm not advocating a Luddite position. Progress carries a price, as even the shallowest thinker must know. But until now, we've largely refused to take steps to attempt to mitigate that price.

An example: in the mid-1970's, a guy in the U.S. developed a carburature (sp?) that allowed him to get 285 miles per gallon in a mid-sized American sedan. He demonstrated it, driving from El Paso, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico on a single gallon of gas. Under the watchful eye of university scientists, the media, and numerous interested spectators. A big oil or automobile company -- I forget which -- bought his patent rights for the astonishing sum of something on the order of 40 million dollars -- well over 100 million bucks in 2008 dollars. And the device vanished without a trace.

At the time, I had one of the early breadbox-sized Honda Civics, and delighted in the fact that at times I managed to get about 35 miles per gallon. (This was after the first big oil shock of the early 1970's.)

Even if global warming turns out to being an invalid idea, dirty air is here and now -- and improving mileage and developing non-polluting alternatives to petroleum (or alternatives that at least produce less pollution than petroleum does) will help mitigate that pollution. If you've never sat in a tuk-tuk or on the back of a motorcycle taxi. stuck in a notorious traffic jam directly behind a poorly-maintained city bus that's belching huge clouds of black, noxious smoke directly into your face, you've missed a real treat. And missed an experience that persuades the heart and soul.

In case it's not clear, I absolutely believe two things: (1.) global warming is real, and, (2.) people are a major contributing cause to it.

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