Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Superfreakonomics Smackdown

Over the weekend, the internet discussion of the global cooling chapter in the forthcoming book Superfreakonomics (the sequel to Freakonomics) really heated up (har har). It's hard to quickly encapsulate the issues, but here's an attempt: Levitt and Dubner argue that reducing CO2 emmissions is too hard (people don't like to change their behavior), costly, and unecessary because we can cool the planet using very "easy and cheap" geoengineered solutions. In the process, they present a highly misleading (and illinformed) view of climate science and compare advoctes for CO2 reduction to a religious cult.

This created an internet firestorm -- particularly because the main climate scientist they rely on feels his views on the importance of CO2 emissions and geoengineering were misrepresented. Here's a very large collection of links on the issue. It can be a bit overwhelming, but I encourage you to read some of them. The authors "responses" can be found here (note -- there's a lot of attacking the messengers without responding to the message).

As an environmental studies major, I couldn't help but laugh at the suggestion of geoengineered solutions, which I have studied and are usually just as costly as the somewhat simpler solutions most other people advocate for, such as weatherizing. If the problem is massive enough, and if somehow tastes and preferences change, then logically, somehow or somewhere down the line it would (or should) leak down to choices. I know this sounds all gooey and kumbayaish, but I believe it can happen.
Oh, and by the way, given the title of this post, I can't help but post this video (never mind the idea of geoengineeed solutions to the problem has been proven in many ways to be a bad solution, akin to something Rick James could have come up on a coke binge):
I've been following this debate for a while now, and its been pretty astounding the back lash from the 'traditional' environmental community (ie Joe Romm) to any idea counter to strong-handed regulation and a cap and trade climate bill. I think geoengineering is not a viable or responsible solution, and is basically putting off acting on the pressing needs of climate to a more convenient time and a technology that doesn't yet exist. But I think theres a lot more at stake here beyond whether geoengineering is viable or not. The environmental community as we know it is not very receptive to alternative solutions, different dialogue, and criticisms.
A really radical suggestion amidst this climate crisis. However, I find it really interesting to think of ways in which individuals coudl passively engage in reducing C02 emmissions. It is, I believe, very true that unless an individual perceives an issue as pressing he or she would find difficulty in changing their normal behavior.
There are reasons that the 'traditional' environmental community is against several different solutions to climate change. Most environmental activists are all for critique on the implementation of their actions, but they've been held back for many years on the basis of hypercriticism. Given that we can actually see the impact of climate change yearly, watch it destroy many island nations who don't have resources to realize or then to convince the sovereign First World nations that their externalities are destroying other parts of the planet, time is not a luxury we can afford. Almost every scientist who researches climate change agrees on this.
In other words, there's the possibility that environmental activists really want to be able to waste time debating whether or not specific action would be better than current coursework, but anything more than detailing on specific plans is probably intensely frustrating for them, considering how much is already being lost.
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