June 24, 2011
The purpose of all this sound and fury is simple. It serves to distract us, quite literally, from the clouds slowly gathering overhead.
The atmosphere is the Earth’s most subtle dynamic system, chaotic in its motion, majestic in its flow, and a mass of gas so vast that some of what goes up into it takes centuries to come down. Your personal share of it—its mass divided by the nearly seven billion souls now living—comes to the better part of a million tons, so what possible harm could one do by burning a ton or two a year of fossil fuel? After all, we exhale CO2, as does every other living creature from Bambi to Shamu the whale.
The answer, alas, is rather a lot, because when you convert from tons to volume, what we generate dwarfs what we exhale. So let me try to school Al in symbol creation: Forget about inflating party balloons. Civilization’s CO2 emission already amounts to a fully inflated Hindenburg popping into existence in the sky once every second. One Hindenburg looks kind of cute tied up to the Empire State Building or Pier Six, but imagine 3,600 cigars the size of the QE III materializing overhead every hour, 24/7. That’s enough to spread a solid roof of dirigibles over Manhattan in twenty minutes and adumbrate everything coastwise from Lakehurst to the Hamptons in five days flat. And how much solar heat does this veritable vergeltungs flotte trap? To keep up with the rate at which CO2 is already downloading solar energy into the oceans, each virtual Hindenburg would have to toss five A-bombs into the drink every second. O the humanity! O the menhaden!
Now for the bad news—we’ve been at it for fully five generations, and herding the hundreds of tons of new CO2 in your share of the air into a cloud directly overhead, like the one that used to follow Li’l Abner’s sidekick around, extends over our personal share of the global commons out to where it bumps into the next guy or gal’s. Either way, it won’t look good at Ascot, so don’t be surprised if Al decides to throw it in the ring for his final shot next Inauguration Day.
When it comes to intelligent discussion about how science, climate policy, and free markets should intersect, Al is running unopposed. Republicans, and the Tea Party in particular, have only their talking heads to blame.