What if the tree huggers are wrong? What is the harm?

Estimated peak oil production,
and when the oil runs out:



First, this is not meant to be a thread to hash out whether or not you believe we are wetting our own bed on a global scale and whether or not wetting the bed has an adverse effect on it's health. Most of us believe it does. Some believe it doesn't. Been there, posted that, getting redundant. Due to the lack of a storeroom full of scale-model test planets on which we can directly infuse with CO2 and see what happens, the believers will never be able to prove it to the satisfaction of the deniers. Nor will the deniers convince the believers that the big ass brown cloud of smog over every major city is just a coincidence and isn't hurting anything. 

My question is this: What if we, on a global scale, reduce our trash output and CO2 to a minimum, switching as much as reasonable to recyclables, renewables, and clean energy, and it turns out to have been totally unnecessary? 100 years from now someone invents a giant climate-O-meter and says, "Oops. Turns out all that smog and hypoxic zones and the continent-sized flotsam fields in the oceans weren't hurting a thing." 

How have we hurt ourselves/what have we lost by going green?

Because whether one believes in Anthropogenic Global Warming or not:

- We have a finite supply of what is the bulk of our energy. Not finite as in thousands of years, but in terms of decades. A century or two at best. 

- There is little argument about the human health hazards of living in a major city engulfed in smog, or having a coal plant in your backyard.

- We are putting out trash faster and in greater volumes than it takes the planet to decompose it. I'm not exaggerating about those trash fields being the size of a continent.

Yes, the initial cost to changeover from coal to wind, oil to solar or geothermal, that initial cost is high. It takes time for new tech to start paying for itself. But in the long run it pays for itself. Shell out the money to buy in bulk today ... save over the long term. Simple math. 

Yes, recycling has hardly been streamlined here in the U.S. at least. In some cases it costs more to recycle a widget than it does to chuck it and make a new one. But that too is growing in efficiency. 

So as best as I can tell, if us tree huggers are wrong, the worst that's happened is that the oil mogul's great-grandchildren's trust funds won't be as big. In the short term we spent some extra bucks changing to green energy, but we would have had to do that eventually anyway.

Oh, and Al Gore got rich off some books. That seems to be the number one what-we-have-to-lose that I hear from the anti-AGW crowd. Because it is just such a global disaster for Al Gore to sell books. 

Can anyone else tell me how I am bringing about the demise of our civilization by recycling my plastics and going solar?

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Terribly sorry. You are obviously a woman if I would only take time to check.
No worries! My nic actually is derived from "Joseph Jerome" which is what my name would have been had I been born male instead of female. I took on the feminine form of "Jo" and kept the "Jerome" for my cool uncle Jerry.

;-)
If you buy into the argument that " even if Global Warming is not anthropogenic, it would not hurt to clean up the environment", you may be ignoring consideration of the cost of doing so and the value of doing so.
Cleaning up the environment will be very expensive. A new and probably more expensive energy infra-structure will be required.

This is the "Should I buy insurance" question, writ large. For example, many people die in household fires each year - probably a horrible death. Many of those may have been able to escape if they happened to have a fire extinguisher handy. Fire extinguishers are readily available and affordable. So, do you have one in each room of your house? If not, why not? The risk is real and the cost well known.
Most likely, you do not have one handy right now. This is either because you judge the risk to be lower than the cost of the extinguisher, or because you're careless, poor or foolish. Most people have either no extinguishers, or perhaps one in the garage or the kitchen (even though most fire deaths occur in bedrooms).

Insurance is not free. For your insurance payment you buy a degree of security in the rare case where the risk actually happens, and also a certain degree of peace of mind in the usual case where the insured against risk never occurs. You've got to ask yourself: "Is it worth it?"
Cleaning up the environment; shifting our energy resource to a renewable means, etc is expensive. If we do it there will be a large, long term reduction in your other standard-of-living enjoyments. That reduction may be of far less utility than the cost. (There have been numerous other warnings that "the sky is falling" in the past that never actually happened. In the 1950s the scientific community was in general agreement that it was not possible to avoid a population explosion induced famine before 2000.)

My point here is not that we should not try to reduce CO2 emissions, but rather that making that decision based on the idea that security is the overwhelming motivator of society is an error. We are all risk takers - the question is "how much risk".

Regards
GaryB
If you buy into the argument that " even if Global Warming is not anthropogenic, it would not hurt to clean up the environment", you may be ignoring consideration of the cost of doing so and the value of doing so.
Cleaning up the environment will be very expensive. A new and probably more expensive energy infra-structure will be required.

This is the "Should I buy insurance" question, writ large. For example, many people die in household fires each year - probably a horrible death. Many of those may have been able to escape if they happened to have a fire extinguisher handy. Fire extinguishers are readily available and affordable. So, do you have one in each room of your house? If not, why not? The risk is real and the cost well known.
Most likely, you do not have one handy right now. This is either because you judge the risk to be lower than the cost of the extinguisher, or because you're careless, poor or foolish. Most people have either no extinguishers, or perhaps one in the garage or the kitchen (even though most fire deaths occur in bedrooms).

Insurance is not free. For your insurance payment you buy a degree of security in the rare case where the risk actually happens, and also a certain degree of peace of mind in the usual case where the insured against risk never occurs. You've got to ask yourself: "Is it worth it?"
Cleaning up the environment; shifting our energy resource to a renewable means, etc is expensive. If we do it there will be a large, long term reduction in your other standard-of-living enjoyments. That reduction may be of far less utility than the cost. (There have been numerous other warnings that "the sky is falling" in the past that never actually happened. In the 1950s the scientific community was in general agreement that it was not possible to avoid a population explosion induced famine before 2000.)

My point here is not that we should not try to reduce CO2 emissions, but rather that making that decision based on the idea that security is the overwhelming motivator of society is an error. We are all risk takers - the question is "how much risk".

Regards
GaryB
From what I've researched, cleaning up and switching to green renewables is expensive in the short term, but cost-saving in the long term (10-20 years from now).

And switching to renewable energy is something we're going to have to do soon anyway. Now, while there's plenty of fossil fuel to make the transition gradually makes more sense to me than waiting until the 11th hour.
I jumped into this discussion without reading all of the preceding comments but now find that "John D." had already covered the points I wished to make. One more thread has occurred to me regarding the danger of extrapolating trends.
The is no doubt that the icepack in several parts of the world is receding. Greenland has lost more than half of its glaciers since the first geo-physical satellite photos were made about 45 years ago. If this trend were to continue, the earth's oceans would rise at least 40 meters and flood most coastal areas - we'd have no more Netherlands, New York City, etc. Most people would consider this to be a bad thing. Although this is a value judgement, for the sake of this discussion let's agree this is a bad outcome.

Another consistent trend over the past 100 years or so is the amount of "proven petroleum reserves" . It has continually increased, even though we've been consuming oil voraciously. The reason is that the technologies available for recovering oil have been improving rapidly, so that more and more oil is accessible. Those who believe that trends predict the future should be alarmed! If this trend persists we will eventually all drown in petroleum. Eiuuu!- Yucky! Believers will recognize that we all must immediately increase our consumption of oil.

Of course this is nonsense. Although "proven reserves" have increased for 100 years, this in no way suggests that they will continue to increase ad infinitum. In fact no trend - no trend whatsoever - can continue forever. The only possible steady state "trend" is "zero change", all other rates, positive or negative, must end.

I'm getting "off topic" so I'll quit now.

Regards,
GaryB
One of my favorite dumb tourist questions ever: "What percentage of Yellowstone's waterfalls are undiscovered?"

-_-

True, we can't know for certain what percent of the world's oil is undiscovered. Make that undiscovered and economically viable to get to and extract.

Even if we take the optimistic view that "For all we know, we might find 300 more years worth of oil if we just put a few hundred billion dollars into digging here or there," it's still a gamble. Versus the known relative availability of the sun and the wind - roughly a hell of a lot longer than people will even be on this planet.

Doesn't the expensive-in-the-short-term/but-saves-money-in-the-long-term known, consistent energy source make more sense than the only-slightly-less-expensive-in-the-short-term unknown, inconsistent energy source?

Then again, that's a value judgement as well.
Leon, I and the wide majority of the scientific community absolutely, 100% agree with you.

Dump shit into the planet faster and in greater quantities than the planet can deal with that shit, and you eventually have a planet full of shit. I fail to understand why so many fail to understand this concept.

The purpose of this thread was to address those who somehow think we don't have an impact or our impact won't ever be significant. It seems all the opposition to clean air legislation and community recycling programs is "But AGW isn't real!" (Though in reality a lot of it is also because it would be inconvenient to those who bought their GOP senators, but let's pretend for the moment, like they do, that this isn't a factor).

Fine then. If we don't reduce our trash fields and move from finite fossil fuels to renewable, clean energy because of AGW, aren't there any number of other reasons it's a good idea?

It's kind of like saying "I'm not going to clean the dog piss off the carpet because I don't believe it poses a health risk." Ok, so how about cleaning it up because it looks and smells bad?

-- I'm sure some of us are aware about the plastic country that lives in the Pacific ocean that is twice the size of Texas and growing at an alarming rate. --

My climate 'epiphany' came somewhere around age 8, when I learned how long it takes a styrofoam cup to decompose. I immediately thought of about how many cups I use in a year, times 6 billion, times a thousand, and immediately envisioned a planet full of not-yet-decomposed styrofoam cups. Let alone all the other stuff we toss out. Literal pictures of, say, giant, continent-sized, trash fields in the ocean.

Who knew my little 8-year-old wild-imagination vision would become a sad reality?
pollution, cancer, cant breath, problem

clean air/water/ dare I say organic food, no problems!
James,
You wrote, "clean air/water/ dare I say organic food, no problems!"

We all want clean air and water, and some want organic foods.
If it's no problem, why don't we have them?

I think it is a significant problem and suspect a solution will require a big change in
how we live (i.e. it will be expensive - in money, effort, and our individual rights.) There are now 1.5 billion Chinese who have glimpsed our rich western life style and they want it too. Not far behind are another 1 billion Indians. When I couple that tidal wave of humanity with the fact that those of us lucky enough to already have that fat lifestyle wanting to keep it, I see a very large problem.

However, the fact a problem is large does not mean we can ignore it. I think it does mean we should focus our efforts very carefully. I find it most disturbing that no solution at all is possible without population control. Since we are biologically prone to wish to reproduce, any available leibensraum; any survivable niche at all will tend to be filled with more of us. We need a means of controlling our population ourselves or we will run into natural controls, which usually are not pretty. There's now near 7 billion of us, when I was born there was just under 3 billion. If today's population had remained at 3 billion, the natural Earth processes of converting CO into carbonate rocks (limestone) might suffice.

The Earth doesn't care. It's had an atmosphere of >75% CO2 in the distant past, been half covered with ice, and been almost free of ice. We are the only ones who care.
. . . But it won't be easy, or cheap or fun.
I think he means that if we had those things we wouldn't have environmental problems like GW.
Perhaps you're correct Susan. Then we'd have to discuss "the Green Revolution" that occurred between 1945 and 1970. Newly developed wheat and rice varieties, coupled with techniques such as monoculture, increased the yield in places like India, Mexico and Africa by 8-10 times. The populations of those areas had been under threat of famine. 20 years later they were exporting food.

This significantly increased the "carrying capacity" of the Earth for people. Population more than doubled in 50 years and is expected to increase by another 3-4 billion by 2050.

If we're to avoid mass famine/disease/war we need to limit the population and also to repair the damage we've done to the environment. The population can increase only as a function of reducing the standard of living. That does not appeal to me.

I do agree that we should reduce our carbon footprint and simultaneously increase our use of quickly renewable energy. However, it will make no difference if we do not stop population growth. CO2 problems are a symptom, not a primary cause.

Regards,
GaryB

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