Much Ado About Climate

If you haven’t been under a rock for the last few weeks you might have noticed a very angry girl showing up in your news feeds. If you have been under a rock, meet Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish “climate activist” who somehow went from relative obscurity to an audience with the United Nations apparently without any help from anyone else.

This post is not about her.

No. I want to address three premises advocated by Greta and others of her persuasion.

  • Premise A: The climate changes.
  • Premise B: Human activity is a major cause of climate change.
  • Premise C: Climate change is going to have catastrophic effects on humanity

Premise A is common sense, like anything in nature, climate is variable and dynamic. Study it long enough and you are bound to see it changing. We know the climate has changed in the past, and we know it continues to change. There aren’t many people who disagree with this premise.

B and C are really the only debatable ones here.

Those who advocate for B like to use data from the past century or two to assert that the pollution begun during the Industrial Revolution has ravaged the climate and started us down a spiral of doom. But that dataset is too small in my opinion. Especially if you claim, as they do, that the earth is six billion years old. Two centuries of precise or semi-precise data is hardly a speck in the vast atmosphere that is geological time (see what I did there?).

Even if a correlation can be made between pollution and temperature change, a causation cannot be established. Weather and climate predictions contain many many variables. Miss a variable or put too much importance on one and you can skew the results dramatically. There is no way to accurately know how much impact human activity has on climate without establishing how much impact human activity has on climate. They are chasing themselves in circles.

We know that there are many variables affecting climate. Why place so much emphasis on human activity?

Well for starters, if you accept premise C, premise B offers you a speck of hope. If climate change is going to be destructive, isn’t it comforting to know that we can do something about it?

Unfortunately the people who accept all three premises don’t seem to be comfortable at all. They are terrified. Terrified people are easily manipulated by the political classes. This is why we see people like Miss Thunberg advocating that the politicians “do something about it.” They truly believe that coercion by governments is the only way to stop the coming “crisis”.

Those who believe the world is quickly approaching its demise would be better off getting out of politics and getting into engineering or environmental jobs like forestry or ecology.

Climate change-fearing engineers could invent products to replace what they deem environmentally destructive. They could make those products better than what is currently in use. They need to understand that people respond better to good products in the marketplace than to having guns pointed at their heads and being forced to change their every day behavior.

If they are concerned about carbon in the atmosphere they should be using wood for everything. Plant trees, let them grow, cut them down, plant more. Trees are one of the best carbon sinks out there and the younger they are the more carbon they suck up. Instead of yelling about deforestation they ought to get a job in forestry and learn how to sustainably manage forests.

I know I said this post isn’t about her, but let’s get back to Greta. What’s truly awful about this whole debate is that we have gotten to the point in human history where instead of discussing data, facts, ideas, opinions etc. we’d rather lob insults and labels or mock the physical or mental traits of certain people on the other side.

Stop making fun of this girl for her looks, her diagnoses, and her emotions. Instead, point her to more effective uses of her time than lobbying people who are only interested in keeping their own power.

Accept premise D: if A, B, and C are true, the market can and will find a way to solve the crisis. And people like Greta Thunberg have the perfect amount of passion to flourish in that market.

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The Flame Blame

(C) Ed Hall, Not used by permission. I hope he forgives me. Heck, who’s reading this anyway?

“You might like my latest cartoon” came the message from my political cartoonist acquaintance. I’ve been following him for some time and while our politics rarely line up I at least appreciate his passion and willingness to push buttons and boundaries.

But this time he really pushed one of my buttons.

I’ve been standing on the sidelines and avoiding conversations about the wildfires in California. The few places I did comment with my knowledge and opinions didn’t seem to get anywhere. People have decided to look at the whole situation through whatever political worldview they have chosen for themselves. Even the wildland firefighter community on social media has collapsed into bomb lobbing and insult hurling.

Everyone wants to blame someone.

My cartoonist friend (and the environmentalists) want to blame climate change (and the Republicans). Yes, weather does play a major role in the spread of fire, and in the availability and moisture level of fuels. But just like you can’t blame an ice storm for car accidents, you can’t blame the climate for wildfires.

People are the cause of accidents, whether they be car crashes in an ice storm or devastating wildfires in a drought. The ice did not make the driver crash, the driver’s response to the icy road caused his accident. The climate did not create the devastation, the policies and practices of people in response to the climate created the devastation.

When Trump blamed the fires on lack of management he wasn’t entirely wrong. There is horrible management going on in many of the forests around the country. Much of that mismanagement is concentrated in the western states, particularly the three bordering the Pacific ocean.

Environmental groups, loggers, ranchers, and developers have been knocking heads in that part of the country for decades. The lobbyists for these parties have all gone to the Federal government to get their way in the land management game. Full fire suppression, a lack of timber thinning, a lack of controlled burning, and an explosion of building in the wildland interface are all polices and practices tied to these groups and their lobbying one way or another.

But just like you can’t blame the weather, you can’t blame mismanagement. Because mismanagement has a root.

Blame lies squarely on the concept of Federal ownership and management of land. The Federal government was not created to do such a thing and is not capable of doing it effectively.

Better put: land is best managed by the people who own it and live on it. Those are the people with real skin in the game.

When land belongs to everyone it becomes fodder for political ends. Public ownership means that I get to call the shots for land thousands of miles away from me. This is usually land I will probably never see, and ecosystems which I may never study or understand.

But locals know the land. Locals know what happens when you manage the forest one way or another. They live in it and derive their economic well-being from it. They have a vital interest in making the whole thing work. Mismanagement has direct and dire consequences upon them.

Ironically it is often these locals who lobby the Federal government to do what they wish because they don’t get along with the other locals. The ranchers don’t like the loggers, the loggers don’t get along with the recreation special interests, and no one gets along with the environmentalists. And no one gets along with the Fed either, because while trying to please everyone, the Fed enacts and carries out policies which please no one.

So while the ranchers are happy to have cheap (ie Federally subsidized) open range grazing land they are not happy with the fences the environmentalists want put up to protect the watershed. And the loggers are content to log land managed by their Fed friends but they are not happy with the ranchers for burning up timber while trying to improve grazing conditions. The environmentalists are happy to have a giant monopolized force machine to restrict all human action on nature but they are not happy with… well… anyone.

We should get the Federal government out of the business of land management and turn it all over to the locals. Let the local loggers and the local Hippies and the local ranchers sort it out amongst themselves.

At least then when it burns out of control we know who to blame.

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