Posted by: bmeverett | May 24, 2015

Climate Guilt

I was a freshman in college at the time of the Great Northeast Blackout in November of 1965. Nearly 30 million people in New York, New Jersey, New England and Ontario lost power for up to 13 hours. The cause was simple human error. Transmission lines have safety relays set to disconnect the line if power exceeds the line’s capacity. One of the relays at a power station in Ontario had accidently been set too low, causing the line to cut out unnecessarily. The power from that line was diverted to other transmission lines, overloading them and causing a cascade of tripped relays.

A few days later, a friend told me a story about an 8 year old boy in New Jersey who was walking home from the playground hitting telephone poles with a stick along the way. One whack coincided with the blackout, convincing the young boy that he was responsible for the Manhattan skyline going dark. His frantic parents had to search for him for hours before finding him hiding in fear of the terrible punishment he knew he would have to face. Today that boy is probably a climate activist.

Irrational fears and magical worlds are, alas, not confined to small boys. At the time of the Great Blackout, John Fuller, a 52 year old writer for the Saturday Review, suggested that the blackout may have been caused by extraterrestrials. Hector Tobar joins this august group with his op-ed in the May 22 New York Times entitled “The Sins of Angelenos.” Mr. Tobar believes that the climate of Los Angeles has fundamentally changed because of human behavior – specifically his behavior. He notes that an arborist at the University of Oregon bemoans the loss of campus birch trees destroyed by rampaging bronze borer beetles thriving in our newly hot climate. Furthermore, in a heart-rending mea culpa, Mr. Tobar believes that “The plague of insects is my fault. So was the poor snow season in Oregon resorts, and Hurricane Sandy, and the rising tides threatening assorted Micronesian islands. As a native of Los Angeles, I am significantly more responsible for global warming than your average resident of planet Earth. We pioneered an energy-guzzling lifestyle for the masses and taught the world to follow our lead. Now a parched, endless summer is our punishment.”
While he’s being fitted for his hair shirt, Mr. Tobar might have a look at the facts. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), average temperatures in the US have increased by about 2° F since 1895. This warming, however, has occurred in two distinct periods. The first increase of about 1° F took place between 1895 and about 1935. Between 1935 and about 1970, average temperatures actually fell before starting to rise again. By around 2000, average temperature had risen by about 1° F compared to the level in the mid-1930s, and there it has stayed for the last 15 years.
Climate activists have been arguing for the last 20 plus years that carbon dioxide emissions will lead to temperature increases of 8-10° F with catastrophic results in terms of sea level increases, more severe weather, the spread of disease and general mayhem. To be clear, Mr. Tobar, the catastrophic predictions have not actually happened. Over the last 40 years, Los Angeles has experienced temperature increases similar to those of the early part of the 20th century, which did not seem to bring climate catastrophes. For the last 15 years, there has been no temperature increase at all. The temperature increase in Los Angeles over the last hundred or so years has been approximately the same as the temperature difference between LA and Santa Barbara 100 miles to the north.
The events Mr. Tobar notes, including the bronze borer beetles, the California drought, the poor snow in Oregon and Hurricane Sandy are all well within the natural variability of our climate. We need to remember that climate variations occur over hundreds, thousands and millions of years. None of us has a data base of personal experience sufficient to judge whether every individual event is somehow unnatural. Only proper, scientific analysis can determine that, and science is not showing us anything out of the normal range.
The consequences of this confused and magical thinking are potentially severe. The United States is a free society. Throughout our history, government has been seen as the servant of the people, not as their parent. Apparently, Mr. Tobar believes that “the masses” should not have been allowed to develop an “energy-guzzling lifestyle”. A modern industrial lifestyle derives from the substitution of massive amounts of chemical energy for human and animal power. Fossil fuels allow us to eat well, live well and to travel as we please. What does Mr. Tobar think we should have instead? Perhaps he has an idyllic vision of peasants living and dying within a few miles of where they were born? The Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, disliked railroads, which he believed “only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.” Well, Your Lordship, the common people actually like moving about and don’t regard their mobility as needless.
I’ll grant Mr. Tobar this. If it turns out that increased carbon dioxide emissions actually do bring catastrophic temperature increases, he is welcome to say “I told you so!”. The American people, however, are highly doubtful that this will happen, and they have good reason for their skepticism. For now, however, let’s not pretend that the “parched, endless summer” is already here. Our climate is demonstrating normal variability, and the fervent wishes of climate activists can’t make it otherwise.


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