In his recent article Seth makes the assertion that Global Warming suffers bad PR due to choices about it’s name as well as it’s lack of immediate impact. I suggest it has an even larger set of problems.
Global Warming suffers from many problems. One of them is hysteria. The more hyped and hysterical claims are, the less likely people are to believe them. This is one of GW’s main problems. There are genuinely areas on this planet that would benefit greatly from a bit of warming. For years the response of people in this area that GW would help them so bring it on were essentially ignored by the disasterbators. But lo and behold when the benefits of an increase of a couple degrees started getting out, the diasterbators had to do something to counter it. The result? Disaster scenarios custom tailored to the thing you’d like to not have most. If your area could benefit from being warmer, it will get colder. If you could benefit from a little more rain, it will get dryer. Would you like a little less rain? Tough, it is going to get wetter where you are.
The primary reaction to this is that the assertion is crap. This is true regardless of the veracity of the claims. It is much like snake oil in that regard.
The other problem GW has is more sinister. The downsides are so extreme that simple answers can not possible be available. This is perpetuated by those who believe in GW (as if it were a religion ..hmmm). Take the case of automotive use as an example.
Cars are “the greatest threat”, so they must be eliminated. It does not get any more drastic than that, folks. Secondary to this, since the disasterbators acknowledge this won’t happen, is to get rid of so-called “fossil fuel” vehicles. Move to hydrogen is the answer.
Of course, there are many problems with this. One is that hydrogen is an energy sink, two is that you can’t drill/mine/sink a well to obtain hydrogen: it has to be taken from something else. The final big problem is the one related to the main topic here. Hydrogen requires a dramatic change to the entire infrastructure. From manufacturing distribution to the vehicles themselves. The more drastic the change the less people are interested, or even believe there is a real problem. We’ve all heard the story of chicken little, after all.
Disasterbators, which are all the vast public hears, are not open to the “minor” changes that have dramatic positive impacts. For example, I’ve posted before that simple regulatory changes eliminating certain barriers can result in an effective increase in MPG for heavy trucks (18-wheelers) of up to 140% (from 5 to 12). Given how much of a reduction in pollution (with or w/o GW) and oil usage this would entail I’d expect it to be one of those “easy wins” a new idea/product/service needs to have to build momentum.
This is particularly true since this is a change that would save Americans millions of dollars. It doesn’t require sweepeing changes and it doesn’t require people to go without. But is this ever proposed by Disasterbators? Nope. Does it make press news? Nope. Why not? Because Disasterbators and the mainstream media are sensationalist extremists.
Look at what happens to sites and people that propose workable alternatives. They are lambasted by disasterbators as not being “good enough” or “Ignorant of the fundamental problem: growth”. When the disasterbators are confronted with “smaller” solutions that make real progress, they are pooh-poohed as being “too small to be irrelevant”. This is not limited to environmental disasterbators; political disasterbators have the same problem.
The “solution” is to focus on smaller things that are good ideas regardless of global warming, and on things that provide an easy upgrade path. The aforementioned regulatory change is but one example of the former.
An example of the latter is switching to E85 vehicles as opposed to hybrids. Hybrids don’t build markets for alternatives. Hybrids don’t do anything for providing a new infrastructure. Indeed, all they do is delay the “inevitable” at a higher cost than doing nothing.
E85 however, provides a path to the future. It leverages the existing infrastructure (fuel stations, cars, tax revenues, transportation vehicles and pipelines) with minimal changes, and bridges the gap between current ICE powered vehicles and Ethanol Fuel Cell (EFC) driven vehicles. It is also based on a renewable fuel source.
E85 based transportation economy can also solve other problems such as agricultural waste, transportation accidents, and security issues regarding centralized concentrations of distribution. Ethanol can be made in many places, from Hawaii to Maine, Alaska to Florida. Cellulosic ethanol has an energy return ratio of about 4-5 to 1. That means you get 4-5 units of energy out from every unit put into making it. By contrast, gasoline is about 1:1.3, a loss of energy. Sadly, so is hydrogen (1:1.2 IIRC).
One last point before this episode comes to a close.
Basing global warming solutions so heavily on the automobile and it’s use of oil that is “running out” is a fatal failure as well. We have enough oil in the form of shale oil (no, it isn’t in shale, nor is it actually oil) in North America to power our economy for centuries. Scaring people into outlandish situations based on the notion of an imminent loss of oil supplies due to “running out” wont work. It will especially fail when the cost of extracting that oil reaches say, 30 USD per barrel. According to insiders, it has. According to some it can be done with new techniques that are cleaner than other oil sources, and for about 20-25 USD per barrel. And it won’t require sea transport.
What is getting traction is the notion of “independence” from foreign oil. Fortunately, this is bringing to light some of the very positive aspects of E85. Seth should be proud of this, as it demonstrates some of his points: make it small and cheap and people are more willing to do it.
Politicians have been wrapping themselves in the flag for centuries with runaway success. It is about time E85 did the same. People ar emuch happier to head for something than away from it. Something else that needs incorporated into marketing and discussion of more environmentally friendly technologies and policies. And here is where I must part with Seth on the naming and marketing of GW. I say drop GW entirely. Instead work toward “energy independence”, “local economic advantage”, and “cleaner air/water/etc.”. Give people something they want to reach for, not shy away from.