Through the Looking Glass on Abrupt Climate Change

Published 1 August 2008.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.’

(From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass)

Yeah, this is a diary on abrupt climate change.  Crossposted on Docudharma.

This diary was prompted by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse’s excellent diary of last night, in which Senator Barbara Boxer suggested “‘a master plan’ aimed at ‘covering up the real dangers of global warming and hiding the facts from the public.'”

I can’t for the life of me see much of a cover-up here — maybe an obstruction of facts within official government documents in order to keep the EPA from “doing its job.”  There’s a hiding of documents, to be sure, but little “hiding the facts from the public” is going on — the facts are all out there in plain daylight, and what they show is that we are truly beyond the looking glass when it comes to the problem of abrupt climate change.  We are in the mirror world, where words mean nothing and who is to be master is all that counts.  For now.

So what does it all mean?

The US government constructed an interstate highway system for national security purposes back in the 1950s, and thus based “national security” upon the continued use of fossil fuels.  From the Highway and Motorway Fact Book:

…in the volatile Cold War era, national defense provided a primary justification for developing a super-highway system to accommodate the quick and efficient movement of military equipment and personnel.

Thus with the EPA’s admission of climate change, the US government is caught in a paradox — the national security state is based on a fossil-fuel consumer paradigm which has quite possibly already created the coup de grace to national security.  Hey, the Pentagon noticed it.  Yeah, that’s right, already!  We’ve already put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to make a runaway greenhouse effect possible, with likely crop failures, famines, etc., all the nastiness predicted in Mark Lynas’ book Six Degrees.

So what do we know?

Any proper investigation of abrupt climate change should start with the evidence from Antarctic ice cores.  Start with Nature magazine, 3 June 1999.  See the graph on p. 431; for the past 420,000 years the average CO2 level has varied from an ice-age low of 180 ppm to a hot-age high of about 310 ppm.  We are now, according to the NOAA, at 385 ppm.  Those pesky government statistics again!  What’s a Cheney to do?

At any rate, just seeing that stuff posted in Nature should have frightened us all into some fairly quick searches for a solution.  Anyone want to guess as to its meaning?  We are going to go into a rather extreme hot age, a couple of standard deviations hotter than anything of the past half-million years, and four standard deviations hotter than the average, and it’s going to happen really soon.

Now you’ve got James Hansen arguing that we’re past the tipping point.  If we don’t get back to 350 ppm, Hansen argues, we’ll have a runaway greenhouse effect.  Joseph Romm responded to this as follows:

So I suspect the authors are correct in stating that 450 ppm is too high if maintained for even a few centuries. On the other hand, realistically, 350 ppm is simply not going to be seen again this century.

So Romm thinks Hansen’s goals are unrealistic, wherein we might conclude that if actual survival is unrealistic, we’re doomed.  At any rate, here is Romm’s goal:

As I argued in my book, I believe that with a World War II-scale effort for the next few decades, we could stay below 450. My take-away from this paper is that we would need to keep up that level of effort through 2100 to get back below current levels.

Remember — US involvement in World War II lasted less than four years.  We are talking at least a dozen World War II-scale efforts, laid side by side.  And we are to trust the EPA under Bush to do this?

OK, so what would the EPA do?  Increase CAFE standards?  “Mitigate” further damage?  Too little, too late.  Maybe they could create an immediate ban on all fossil-fuel burning, and declare the planetary atmosphere a toxic waste dump, scheduling it for clean-up.  That would be the rational, consistent approach.  But where’s the enforcement mechanism?  The national security state, the US government’s number one enforcer, is also the number one offender!

Steve Martinot, in S/R, explains the significance of Sohbet Karbuz’s statistics:

Military consumption of petroleum is thus around half a percent of this total. For 2004, military fuel consumption increased 27% over average peacetime military usage. The Army burned 40 million gallons of fuel in three weeks of combat in Iraq, or almost 2 million gallons per day, an amount equivalent to the gasoline consumed by all Allied armies combined during the four years of World War I.

In other words, war is the factor that renders the military a self-generating cyclic producer of global warming. Wars add untold and inestimable damage to the ecology on all levels, while fulfilling their major function of producing mass murder. War is the essential logic of a military machine, and of an ethic and a politics of militarism. Its fundamental purpose is to guarantee access to resources, and in particular petroleum, for its constituency. Its constituency is the US economy, and US industry. As the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world, its role is to guarantee the continued consumption of petroleum by the US economy, the largest national consumer of petroleum in the world.

So the US military burns oil to maintain (and use) its war-making capacity, to keep the petroleum flowing, to maintain the economy, which, in turn, keeps the military going:

The military is now connected and conjoined to roughly 50% of all economic activity in the US. This doesn’t mean that 50% of all production is military production; it means that 50% of all economic activity is associated with the military, either in the production of military hardware, the running of bases, or in ancillary industries whose major customer is the military, and who thus owe their existence and functions to that major customer. Military appropriations by Congress may be 25% of the budget, but there are ripple and multiplier effects that expand the economic involvement of the military to far beyond that 25%.

Are you following me?

There is much more at stake in the EPA matter than a “cover-up.”  Odds are that whatever they’re really “covering up,” it’s probably something we could know now if we could really get a climate change scientist to open up about how bad things really are.  For a decent substitute, we can read Joseph Romm’s piece on the 4th report to the IPCC in, especially because towards the end it contains this little gem:

Because the political leadership of every single member country — including Saudi Arabia, China and the United States — must agree to every word, the language in IPCC summaries tends to get watered down. Thus the IPCC reports are almost certainly understating both the pace and scale of climate change. In fact, the direct observational evidence makes clear that key climate change impacts — sea ice loss, ice sheet melting, sea level rise, temperature, and expansion of the tropics (a prelude to desertification) — all are either near the top or actually in excess of their values as predicted by the IPCC’s climate models. The models are missing key amplifying feedbacks that have already begun to accelerate the rate of climate change.

In short, the process of politicization has dulled this sort of reportage, so that it doesn’t show things as extreme as they really are, which you can find out by asking the scientists themselves.  (And then, of course, there is the disinformation campaign waged by the deniers.)  At any rate, my guess is that the data on abrupt climate change are already accessible, and that they amount to enough to show the US government that it is a primary culprit in this process.

And that, my friends, is what is at stake in the EPA hearings.  We are in the looking glass, remember, where words mean anything, everything, and nothing, and what matters is power.  This is an opportunity to show the world that the US government is, in its current behavior, and with its current power, a danger to itself and to the world.  And it’s a chance for the rest of us to show that we’re better than George Carlin said we were:

Once again, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse is to be commended for another excellent diary, and read well.


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