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When the Past Does Not Pass-- Or, Living the Prequel to Soylent Green

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Message Jack Wolf

When the Past Does Not Pass

Or, Living the Prequel to Soylent Green

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About two years ago, Mr. Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune Review kindly printed my op-ed titled Pittsburgh Should Exploit Climate Change where I argued that Pittsburgh should take advantage of the business opportunity that Climate Change presents.  (Their title, not mine.)   I argued Pittsburgh's geographic position could provide a haven for the masses seeking to escape extreme drought, heat and sea level rise.

That was naive.   Instead, the Pittsburgh region has become a haven for the fossil fuel interests as evidenced by the thick layer of smog in the hills of western Pennsylvania along with the criss-crossing forest cuts for transmission lines and degraded water supplies.

Climate change used to be a boring problem with its effects always judged in future decades.   But, those decades have past.   Climate change is a blah, blah, blah BANG! problem and we are now in the Bang! phase.   This aggravated climate state is clearly expressing itself in the unusual and extreme weather events many Americans are experiencing and scientists are now able to link these events to global warming.   We are now living the prequel to Soylent Green, or worse yet, On the Beach, or One Million Years BC.   A once boring esoteric problem has become most interesting, and until we cease fossil fuel use, the future bangs will be bang , Bang, BANG!

Countless national and international scientific organizations have warned us of the dangers of high greenhouse gas concentrations in our planet's thin atmospheric veneer.   When? Not in the future, but now. (Source: NASA, NOAA, NAS, Max Plank Institute, AGU, SWS, etc.).   How?   Because of carbon dioxide, a powerful heat trapping gas that's emitted from cars, utilities and industry.   Why?   Because it's cheap and pretty much free to do so.   Of course it's going to get hotter -- it's simple physics (Source: Pierrehumbert, Raymond. PHYSICS TODAY. January 2011).   Any assertions to the contrary are inconsistent with objective, peer-reviewed science and represent the total abnegation of human interests.   Additionally, this science is now mature, based in observation, and statistically robust.

Mother Nature is suffering from a death by a thousand cuts.   And, our government who is charged with protecting her is failing her, and us, is failing her citizens.   Where is Richard Clark when you need him?

As a former employee of an international consulting firm that increasingly served the Marcellus shale industry, I initially thought that fracked natural gas could be substituted for coal as a transitional cleaner energy source.   However, recent peer reviewed papers used industry estimates to show that Marcellus greenhouse gas contributions are greater than coal.   Indeed, Australian scientists found dangerously high background atmospheric methane concentrations in natural gas production regions.   These conclusions agreed with field observations: things are leaking and the environmental damage during construction and drilling of well pads and gas transport lines is tremendous.   Even with abatement of fugitive emissions, the end product of methane combustion is CO2.   Moreover, the industry is not seeking to provide a transitional energy source towards renewable energy, but rather one that will stay and grow.   After all, that's how corporations work.

To be associated with fossil fuels is a march of folly and any business involvement with the fossil fuel industry represents a deeply flawed business plan.  

Post WWII offers an excellent history lesson.   When France was occupied by the Nazis in 1940, the Vichy government was formed and worked hand in hand with the Nazis.   After the War, members of that government were tried and convicted at Nuremberg.   They either directly assisted the Nazi government or they knew and did nothing.   They and their sympathizers later became the scourge of French society, behind bars, or dead.   Many were killed outright and violent retribution was common.   These trials and grievances went on for decades and allowed the birth of the Socialist Party in France.   This behavior is known as the Vichy Syndrome.   (Source: Henry Rousso, 1960).

The Vichy Syndrome is "A Past That Does Not Pass" and this syndrome will come to define not only world politics but also our living conditions under rapid continuous climate change.   Our emissions from the 1970's are just now catching up with us.   Drought, heat waves, fish kills, extinctions, floods, wildfire, energy disruptions are now common and inadequately designed infrastructure is failing.   Today's emissions will catch up with us in 2040 resulting in mega-landslides, mega-sea level rise, mega-earthquakes, mega-floods, mega-heat, mega --war, and mass migrations of millions if not billions.   Trade and transportation will become most difficult or absent for some areas and unusual tropical diseases like West Nile Virus will hit the higher latitudes.   The oceans will become even more acidic.   I foresee a day in my lifetime when it makes more sense to conduct my field work in the winter rather than the summer; summer will simply be too hot.   Even now, living life is becoming increasingly dangerous and it seems everyone has their eye to the sky.   BANG!  

These devastating events are increasingly affecting our lives and business.   More of our money goes to property insurance premiums, food, and taxes to cover the cost of climate change damage.   And unfortunately with climate change, as long as we emit greenhouse gases, the worst is always yet to come.   This is a Past That Does Not Pass and climate feedbacks are now accelerating the process.   There is no going back nogoing back now.  Furthermore, there are simple biological and ecological boundaries that limit our adaptation to higher temperatures and climate engineering schemes will make things worse through unintended consequences.  

Make no mistake, our government has failed us. It is time to act. 

This piece is dedicated to my children, and to the memory of Kimberly Griffith, Brenna Giffith, Mikaela Giffith and Mary Saflin.   Google it.


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Over-educated and under-employed, I   am an environmental scientist with over 25 years experience that resigned from a large environemtal consulting corporation that served fossil fuel interests. Here I try to marry climate change, social (more...)
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When the Past Does Not Pass-- Or, Living the Prequel to Soylent Green

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