“Warming Predicted to Take Severe Toll on U.S.”
-Headline from The Washington Post.
So here’s an example of what irritates me about reporting on global warming. The ur-narrative in the global warming story, in case you’ve been on some other planet in the last few years that isn’t doomed (doomed!) by its human inhabitants, is that the end is nigh – catastrophe is coming; the planet is on life support. When it comes to specifics, however, things get a little more hazy. And all the doomcasting has a chilling (warming?) effect on rational discourse, leaving the debate to the sanctimonious, the eggheads, and the conservative scoffers and chucklers.
Now, I’m no global warming skeptic. I frankly don’t have anything approaching the training or knowledge to challenge the scientific consensus or majority on this one. I don’t doubt that we’re seeing climate change, that carbon has something to do with it, and that man-made carbon emissions have something to do with all that carbon. But I also watch and listen enough to know (or at least suspect) that much of what’s pumped out into the political and media environment on this topic is pure cant – pious repetition of conventional wisdom accompanied by self-purifying hand-wringing. Climate modelling, as far as I can tell, is not an exact science. Such predictions are notoriously difficult, which is why there is still much debate as to what exactly will happen in 10 or 20 years times with all those tidal waves, coastal floodplains and so forth, and why Al Gore can get called out by some climate scientists (and not all of them kooky, carbon corp-funded wackjobs either) for exaggerating. It may be the best that we can do but to treat educated guesses as holy writ is bad policy.
Which brings us back to the headline above. What will this “severe toll” consist of? Well, according to U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary report on global warming’s overall impact, North America could lose “as much as 40 percent of its plant and animal species to extinction in a matter of decades.” Note the “as much as.” That means that what is being reported here is the most catastrophic scenario, and one must therefore infer that predictive models differ, and so that there is some uncertainty as to the extent of plant and animal extinction.
Furthermore, who cares? Seriously, who cares? What does it matter if these species die out? I like plants and animals as much as the next guy but what will be the dire impact to me and to human civilization of such extinction? There may well be a good answer to this question but I’ve never heard it, and I’m not some knuckle-dragging Fox News goon who will reject all evidence. I’m quite open to the argument but it never seems to be made, simply assumed – biodiversity is inherently good, the death of any species is catastrophic tragedy. But why?
Then there’s the impact on the North American Timber Industry. The report indicates that “increases in wildfires, insect infestations and disease could cost wood and timber producers $1 billion to $2 billion by the end of the century.” Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But not if you consider that the top U.S. companies (just the U.S., excluding Canada, and excluding all but 27 companies) produced $126 billion dollars in revenue and $5 billion dollars in profit in 2005 alone. And, in any event, so what if timber magnates suffer – we live in a global market economy, remember? Speaking of which, a corollary possible impact of climate change is that “rising temperatures could mean an economic boom for the timber industry in regions with subtropical climates, such as South America, Africa and Asia-Pacific.” In other words, massive profits from the timber industry will most likely be transferred from some of the richest countries in the world to some of the poorest. A loss of profitability in North American markets could lead to more unemployment for workers in the timber industry, which will be unfortunate. But surely the most advanced economies in the world can find a way to adjust, and the people in the developing world who may benefit from the shift are considerably worse off than an out-of-work lumberjack in the United States.
So what does that leave? Ah, yes – the snowmobile industry. “The report also suggests that skiing and snowmobiling will suffer. The $27 billion snowmobiling industry is especially vulnerable because it is dependent on natural snowfall.” Well boo-fucking-hoo. All those people tearing around in snow buggies are going to have to find something else to do on a Saturday afternoon. Might I suggest Tiddlywinks? And isn’t there some kind of ecological justice to all of this – an ecologically destructive pastime hoisted by its own retards? (A shiny green energy star for anyone who gets that reference.)
“Our members are certainly concerned about climate change because our members work with backcountry skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing,” Outdoor Industry Association spokeswoman Megan Davis tells the Post. The end of snowshoeing – earth in the balance indeed.