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I love the smell of emissions

Sarah Palin

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The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive

– Donald J.Trump

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While commenting on anything that the empty-headed Sarah Palin says is beneath my dignity, the US 2016 Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump’s proclamations on climate change need pause. They are as sweeping, bombastic, and asinine as his shocking claim that Mexican immigrants are a bunch of rapists. Here are some more of his tweets on climate change……

  • It’s snowing & freezing in NYC. What the hell ever happened to global warming?
  • Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total and very expensive hoax!

Since Donald Trump leads the field by more than a mile, his words cannot be easily dismissed. They are ominous. That a great number of Americans believe in him is even more alarming.

Trump thinks cold weather in the US in winter disproves the demonstrable fact that global average temperatures have been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution. Trump’s opinions are wrong, but they are, for the most part, mainstream Republican positions. Rejecting climate science is the norm among Republican politicians.

If it’s cold outside in New York in the winter, Trump says, then there is no global warming. His problem is twofold – he does not understand the difference between weather (still often cold in New York in the winter) and climate (gradually warming on average over the entire Earth) and he does not respect the difference between data and anecdote.

Trump isn’t merely another extremist who rejects climate science. He isn’t really a conservative at all. He’s a reactionary populist who has elevated ignorance to a political philosophy. Someone called it ignorantism.

Even if Trump hadn’t said anything about climate change in particular, his dismissiveness toward scientific fact-finding processes bodes ill for the environment. Government policies—economic, public health, environmental—require an accurate measurement of data to inform policymakers who write laws and regulators who enforce them. If American policy-making has to depend upon the ‘gut feel’ of folks like Donald Trump, we are all in deep shit.

A plurality of the Republican electorate currently supports a presidential candidate who does not accept that data and relies on personal anecdotal experience to measure empirical fact. Even though Trump will probably not be the GOP nominee, his following is large. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will need to keep Trump’s supporters on board.

That is alarming. That is ominous.

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Most other Republican presidential candidates do not completely dismiss global warming the way Donald Trump does. Rather, they hem and haw about whether humans and greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of it, and to what extent.

Let’s take a look at what the other Republican idiots have to say about climate change…..

I think global warming may be real…But, it is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately manmade.

Jeb Bush (US Republican Party) 

I don’t believe man-made global warming is settled in science enough.

Rick Perry (US Republican Party)

Does the data even show that the Earth is warming? If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming…They’re cooking the books. They’re actually adjusting the numbers.

– Ted Cruz (US Republican Party)

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The Republicans may sound stupid and irresponsible but something funny happened the last time (ie: in 18,000 BC) that gives one pause and makes one realize that for the layman who is devoid of scientific knowledge and the ability to interpret data, it is not entirely unreasonable to fall into the belief – that climate change is man-made – is a hoax. And God knows that Republicans, like you and me, are laymen and that scientists have been known to have been proved spectacularly wrong, in the past.

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What causes global warming has grabbed researchers for the past five decades like nothing else has ever done. Scientists at Harvard and Columbia Universities quite logically surmised that, in order to understand the mechanisms behind today’s global warming, one has to study the processes that caused the last one – which is the beginning of the end of the last ice age, 20000 years ago.

Sediment cores extracted from beneath the ice, in Antarctica and Greenland exhibited tiny bubbles of trapped CO2 .  A paper published in the journal Nature tried to tell a story from the findings – on how the ice melted then……

20000 years ago, the great ice sheets that buried much of Asia, Europe and North America, stopped their creeping advance and something inexplicable happened – all of a sudden, within the span of two centuries, sea levels rose by as much as 10 meters, which by today’s levels, would mean that Greenland would become ice-free and almost all major coastal cities would disappear – Atlantises, trapped in time under water – maybe for another 20000 years, until the next ice age.

The discovery and study of the core samples pointed to the CO2 that somehow got released by processes that are still unknown, as the only plausible explanation for the last global warming.

It is the same CO2 this time also, except that the same scientists are now pinning the tail on humans this time around. It is but natural to cast doubt under the circumstances.

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This changes everything1

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything entered into my consciousness at a time when frankly I didn’t consider global warming to be my problem. I have to be frank with you – I still don’t think it is. And like me, there are millions of educated folks who find it, as Klein puts it,  ‘easier to deny reality than to allow our worldview to be shattered, a fact that was as true of diehard Stalinists at the height of the purges, as of libertarian climate deniers today.’

Climate change and the future of our planet has been at the periphery of my thought processes. I began shopping at ‘farmers’ market’, eating organic, biking instead of driving, walking instead of biking, using bio-degradable stuff, saying goodbye to plastics, trying not to think of sex – in short, I’ve been ‘doing my bit’, so to speak. What? Not thinking about the sex? Of course sex feeds into global warming. Imagine, if everybody in the world made love at exactly the same time, wouldn’t it raise the overall heat?

But seriously, Naomi says that what I am- we are – doing individually is insufficient. More drastic steps need to be taken. Complete lifestyle changes are going to become necessary. Maybe we shall have to do internships at a nearby Amish township and learn to live without outside energy sources.

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Naomi Klein has always been an arresting writer. Her The Shock Doctrine still resonates within me like I had swallowed a ricocheting golf ball. It is a powerful exposé of the social devastation wrought by Libertarian policies of economic ‘shock therapy’ on a disaster-hit population. With This Changes Everything, she has hit it on the head once again. And it isn’t easy writing on a topic that folks are afraid to think too much about. It isn’t easy gaining a following from one’s writing, but Naomi Klein manages to do this every time.

The 40-million ton 99942 Apophis is an asteroid that wizzes past the Earth roughly every 11 months, covering roughly 31kms every second. At that speed, if it slammed into the Earth, it would wipe out a Russia-sized chunk of the world and cause significant, if not permanent, climate change.

Every time Apophis passes us by, it inches a wee bit closer and closer. Historical data shows that an asteroid of the size of Apophis has hit the Earth roughly every 80000 years. It is now more than 80000 years since the last one struck. 2068 is a year when scientists say, there is a possibility, albeit slim, of an impact. Yet, are we even bothered? I asked ten colleagues at the lunch table and not a single one had even heard of Apophis. What is the world doing about it? Facing the threat would require an investment of trillions of dollars and a joint effort by all nations of the world. It would require conflicting nations to bury their differences and come together. Do we see that happening, even when 2068 is just 53 years away? Nope, we don’t. We are essentially in denial. Most of us who are now in a position to do something about it will be long gone and so it doesn’t bother us much.

A similar mindset clouds our thinking, in so far as climate change is concerned. We know that the world is warming up and we know a catastrophe of some sort lies in the future but somehow we believe that it will happen in the distant future, long after we, the present generation, have passed on. Therefore, beyond the usual platitudes, we are not really concerned – why do we need to worry? We won’t be around anyway.

But there is one flaw in that mindset – modern science’s inability to anticipate the tipping point. Our calculations of Apophis’s trajectory are approximate. In space, even a deviation of a foot off the estimated path can mean half a million kilometers at some point ahead.

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Likewise, if one were to look at history and how the last ice melted, it looks more like those kids’ shower areas in water parks where they have those pivoted ladle-like plastic buckets that slowly fill with water until the weight of the water reaches a point when it swivels them down and a cascade splashes the little kids who squeal in delight and then wait excitedly for the next tip-over.

Climate-wise, the tip-over could well be in our lifetime itself, no one can accurately tell. All we know is, at the tip-over point, things will begin to happen rapidly, completely out of control. At that point, even if we go back to living like the Amish and do not add any CO2, it won’t matter, the warming would be accelerating and irreversible, feeding on itself like the fission reaction inside an atomic bomb.

Naomi Klein’s This changes everything does not go into scientific analysis – that would make the book look like a technical paper. It deals more with the psychology of powerful, partisan forces – well financed right-wing radio and TV hosts, politicians like Donald Trump, think tanks and lobby groups –  almost all of them Republican – who find it convenient to take refuge in the denial of climate change.

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Naomi Klein believes that the world is in the grip of a corporate elite, jostling for the control of it’s natural resources, spinning a fantasy web called globalisation, practicing extractivism – an economic model that treats the Earth as a bundle of resources waiting to be exploited, bringing us closer and closer to the tipping point.

But many observers wish she wouldn’t pin everything on the big bad guys and pause to consider whether there were other factors, such as population growth, that might also have encouraged global warming. The extractive economy began with the invention of organized agriculture, in response to rising human numbers. Even before the spread of farming, migrating hunter-gatherers were implicated in a number of great extinctions. Population growth is slowing in many countries at the present time, but there will still be 8 or 9 billion human beings on the planet within the lifetime of many now living and pressures on resources will only increase.

Then there have been members of the elite who are in their own way, putting investments in green technologies. Richard Branson is trying out bio-fuels for his jets and Bill Gates is funding gobar gas plants in India. Many large corporate entities have entire divisions researching on greener ways of doing business. This year, the ‘Pioneers’ trophy, an annual award for excellence at my employers, went to a team that found an ingenious way to save water inside the factory.

Large grocery chains refuse to use plastic bags and instead encourage the use of bio-degradable and reusable grocery bags. University programs on climate sciences are funded by multinational corporations. Albeit, the sponsorship funds are tax-deductible but if investments being made by big business on green initiatives have a profit objective, what is wrong with that?

Likewise, renewable electricity (solar, wind) and the number of low emission vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric) is rapidly growing. Electrical charging outlets are sprouting on virtually all public facilities and parking lots. Examples of capitalistic entities doing their bit in the interests of the environment are legion and thinking of them as some Satanic Force is unreasonable.

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There is another area that Klein leaves grey – she doesn’t seem to have a solution that is novel in any way – the developing nations are the largest CO2 emitters today. China and India together account for 35% of the total CO2 emissions, worldwide. They look to the industrialized west as the ones who initiated it all and are therefore responsible. They don’t appreciate the technologies that the west introduced, which they enjoy today, with equal élan. They demand compensation. The developed west agrees but both sides have different interpretations of what that compensation should be.

Naomi Klein’s suggestions in this regard appear simplistic and not original – let those who have historically emitted more, pay more, Okay, but what is the mechanism? What would the cut-off point in history be? And having pinned down a date, where is the record of actual tonnages emitted from that date on? If capitalism is to be confronted, capitalism will demand facts and data and that is unavailable.

Finding historical basis, in matters such as climate change, help only to delay finding a solution. I am reminded of a video of the Indian Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor on British TV, demanding compensation from Britain for the two centuries of colonization. It is water under the bridge but Tharoor, in the course of his bamboozle, somehow thought some sort of compensation was necessary.

Instead, the world has to start afresh, move on from where it is today, join hands together and say to each other, ‘okay, lets forget about who did what and find a common solution that will benefit all’.

There are others like me, who feel that there is more to the debate. It hasn’t been accolades only, for This Changes Everything. Naomi Klein has in fact drawn sharp criticism for her perspective of the climate crisis as a battle between capitalism and the planet. I found one interesting review by a strident critic, one Dr. Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University, with a string of environmental credentials in his name, that lend a voice that needs to be heard.

Mark Jaccard’s critique, titled I wish this changed everything, however was too technical and since I am already suffering from Climate-Change-fatigue (thanks to Naomi’s 530-page blitzkrieg), I have skipped much of it. In case you study Jaccard’s review, do take the time to read the rebuttals that follow. You will find it a most fascinating conversation indeed.

Another interesting debate on Naomi Klein’s book, began with a review published by Elizabeth Kolbert, an American journalist, author and Professor. She is best known for her 2006 book Field Notes from a Catastrophe and as a commentator on environmentalism for The New Yorker magazine. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

Kolbert’s review and Klein’s rebuttal can be found at the links below….

Review – Can climate change cure capitalism?

Debate – Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?: An Exchange (Naomi Klein – Elizabeth Kolbert)

But the overall takeaway for me, from Naomi’s book was a positive one. There is little doubt that Climate Change is real – like the cat in Aesop’s fable where the mice hold a meeting and decide to put a bell round the cat’s neck so they can hear it coming. One of the group, a wizened old mouse, asks ‘how do we get the bell on the cat?’ Naomi Klein’s book is right not to concentrate on the intricacies of the design of the bell. It tries to find ways to tame the cat instead.

Naomi obviously is a woman who is passionate about what she believes in. And I love passionate women.

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