Saturday, November 27, 2010

Around the Interwebs

Lots of good stuff floating around cyberspace right now. The Economist talks about adaptation to the climate change already in the pipeline. Meanwhile, a parcel of medical associations reminds us that a low-carbon economy will improve public health.

Skeptical Science dismantles the canard that variable output from renewables like wind and solar makes them ineffective in generating low-carbon energy. In the process, they provide a useful review of the state of the science of some of the cutting-edge renewable technologies.

Finally, Alexis Madrigal points us to a Business Week feature on the burgeoning problem of copper theft:

As copper prices soar, looters nationwide are attacking electrical grids, telecom towers, transportation hubs, and emergency-service generators.

Two things make this a climate story. First, like the Russian grain embargo, it's a reminder that when scarcity appears as a reality of even as a threat, people do selfish and destructive things for a short-term benefit. Living in a society with food banks and Medicaid as well as cops and soldiers, we Americans don't have a lot of experience with the desperate things people will do when the social order starts to break down. Metal theft also posed a major problem in Iraq reconstruction.

I've previously addressed the skeptic arguments that economic growth is the answer to climate change. The act of ripping apart billion-dollar high-tech infrastructure to steal copper at $4 a pound is a reminder of why. Today we are cementing and accelerating vast changes in the Earth's climate which are already proving to be extraordinarily destructive -- because we will not pay a relative pittance to transition to a low-carbon economy. The "economic growth" we reap by refusing to stop this destructive behavior is analogous to the $4 a pound the thieves are making off of ripping our infrastructure apart. Yet some people maintain that we should continue inflicting this enormous harm so that we will have the money to redress it. The reasoning is Simsonsesque:

Homer Simpson: Okay, boy. This is where all the hard work, sacrifice, and painful scaldings pay off.
Employee: Four pounds of grease... that comes to... sixty-three cents.
Homer Simpson: Woo-hoo!
Bart Simpson: Dad, all that bacon cost twenty-seven dollars.
Homer Simpson: Yeah, but your mom paid for that!
Bart Simpson: But doesn't she get her money from you?
Homer Simpson: And I get my money from grease! What's the problem?