One of the things that I have never understood about the seemingly endless debate about global warming is why the conversation has been limited to just the two options. With neither of them being particularly correct. It's the same with political parties. There are only two of them that we're supposed to care about, and neither of them could beat a brood sow in a beauty contest. If I may show my early rural origins a little bit. As a kid I actually did have family relatives who talked that way.
The first global warming option has to do with stopping it. And is there anything new today that isn't supposed to be good for the earth while helping to end the effects of global warming? Everything from getting rid of plastic shopping bags to replacing single family homes with condos and taking the bus, there is hardly a product or marketing effort out there today that doesn't claim to have something to do with going green and saving the planet. For many living in the West this is about the closest thing to religion as they have ever experienced. And they cling to it like zealots.
Then there is the other side of the coin. The place where people are happy to inform us that mankind's so-called carbon footprint is so utterly insignificant in a world this vast that there has been no effect on the planet's climate whatsoever. Nor is there likely to be one for hundreds of years, if ever. And that all of the rubbish being pushed by the climate left has nothing to do with real science and everything to do with politics and increasing government control over every facet of our lives. In their eyes Green is an apocryphal creed, and saving the world from global warming has supplanted God in an increasingly godless world.
I have long been convinced that neither side of this debate is completely correct. Which is why when this topic invades my blog, I don't say much about it. A debate this vast and all-consuming for so many is hard to avoid, and it is better to let people just blow off some of their own personal global warmth than get in the way.
But today I thought I would share a third option with you. I find it to be both personally liberating and, in my mind at least, does have a ring of truth. The premise being that the damage has already been done, it is devastatingly severe, and it is way too late to save anything that we as humans care to think of as the planet. A viewpoint that has a lot more to do with our own precarious place upon it than the survival of life itself. Life will survive. But unfortunately for the human ego once the next 150 to 200 years have passed us by we will probably no longer be a sustainable part of it.
This is the viewpoint of James Lovelock. Who is he? An English gentleman widely revered as the father of climate science. Now in his 90s, he continues to be recognized as one of the great thinkers in his field. A 2008 article in the British paper The Guardian entitled "Enjoy Life While You Can" (click here) describes him this way:
Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypotheses, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.
A gentleman scientist who is widely respected in the field of climate science, one recognized today for having developed many original ideas that today are accepted truths in his field. He was right at a time when no one accepted his ideas, and lived to see them all become an accepted part of the ecological canon. Yet his ability to create controversy remains strong.
On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. That is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.
"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."
Now the end of the world as we know it might not be the best of news for those of us who are currently a part of it, but Lovelock does assure us that there are still 150 or so years to go. It seems obvious to me that there is no conceivable way that any of us will survive to the time when we won't be able to survive. Plus it does take a lot of the pressure of having to save the world off of our weary shoulders. If it is already too late, then there really isn't much left that we can do. Might as well just go to the movies.
Our Town Inc. - Taking the People's Business Private
That is the title of an article in today's New York Times discussing how they get city government done in Sandy Springs, GA. A town where everything, with the exception of a few essential jobs and services, is done by private companies.
If your image of a city hall involves a venerable building, some Roman pillars and lots of public employees, the version offered by this Atlanta suburb if 94,000 residents is a bit of a shocker.
The entire operation is housed in a generic, one-story industrial park, along with restaurant and a gym. And though the place has a large staff, none are on the public payroll. O.K., seven are, including the city manager. But unless you chance into one of them, the people you meet here work for private companies through a variety of contracts.
To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have. It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents.
Does the Sandy Springs approach work? It does for Sandy Springs, says the city manager, John F. McDonough, who points not only to the town's healthy balance sheet but also to high marks from residents on surveys about quality of life and quality of government services.
The Police and Fire Departments have remained on the city payroll in Sandy Springs as well. But only because the cost of insuring private services in those two fields is prohibitive. You can access the rest of this article by clicking here.