Fossil Fuels & Hot Air
Ted Folkert – July 15, 2021
“Can’t live with them and can’t live without them.” That’s what some people say about their spouses.
It seems that something similar can be said about fossil fuels – we literally can’t live with them and we domestically can’t live without them – that is, unless we can find a way to suck up the indestructible layer of gases we are spewing into our atmosphere every moment of every day, everywhere on Planet Earth, and bury them in the ocean or convert them into usable chemicals. Thus far, there doesn’t seem to be such a solution, and thus far there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to acknowledge our demise in a meaningful way.
This debacle came about with no intent of “malice in mind” unless we consider destroying the air we breathe by emitting chemicals into the air, which will eventually render planet Earth incapable of supporting human life, as “malice I mind.”
This lack of willingness to alter our ways may not destroy the planet’s capabilities of supporting human life during the lifetime of those of us who now occupy the planet, but it will certainly affect future inhabitants who are unable to prevent the damage we are doing simply because they have not yet been born. So, apparently, we will let then worry about it, perhaps when it is too late for preventative measures to extend life-sustaining necessities for human life. We hide behind clichés such as: “Why should we give up personal pleasures and lifestyles just so we can make life possible for those who are yet unborn?” “We don’t know that these scientists are right or if they are just trying to scare us into submission.” “Maybe brilliant measures will be discovered.” “Some scientists disagree with such doomsday warnings.” “Half the planet is still frozen.”
The damaging effect of fossil fuel usage is not climate-logical uncertainty. This is scientific knowledge accepted by nearly a hundred percent of the environmental scientists today. Those who choose to challenge these warnings do so to protect their own short term welfare with no regard for the future residents of the planet – a planet which provides the sustenance for life for 8 billion people now, a number which is likely to increase to 10 billion within the next few decades.
Scientists have warned us that we will see more extreme weather patterns, including intense heat waves that occur more often and longer – a major public health risk that will only worsen as climate change ensues. (LA Times – “More waves, more death” editorial July 4, 2021) The recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is a perfect example of what we can expect from here on. In Oregon temperatures recently reached an all-time high of 116 degrees and at least 79 people died. In British Columbia it hit 121 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. Extreme heat kills more people in an average year than any other weather-related hazard. Such conditions will require extensive programs to weatherize homes all over the world in high-risk areas by providing cooling systems for survival and solar panels to produce power. Scientists tell us that climate change is here. More deadly heat waves are coming and we have to prepare for them.
Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist and author of “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution,” tells us: “We are clearly in a climate emergency, with the coming natural disasters the result of human decisions. We can still limit further breakdown by adopting policies designed to rapidly end fossil fuel use. This means an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel exploration, development and infrastructure, including the tar sands pipeline currently being built in the Upper Midwest.” He further states: “Future summers will make the summers of this decade seem cool by comparison. There is no stopping this process until we change how we treat the planet.”
And so, despite these prodigious warnings, we just can’t live without our traditional 4th of July fireworks displays all over the nation – not a few, not a hundred – no, thousands of fireworks displays sanctioned and performed by governmental as well as private revelers in celebration of the founding of our nation. The Los Angeles Times article: “Pollution soars with July 4 fireworks,” tells us that: “This year’s Fourth of July fireworks created the second-highest air pollution levels from the holiday in the last decade and were the highest since the Bobcat wildfire in September,” quoting the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The article tells us that the levels of pollution were about 50% higher than the 10 year average from 2010 to 2019.
Continuing the process of information, the Los Angeles Times tells us in the July 5th article: “No, L.A. is not a desert. But we are getting there:” “A hotter planet is drying out Los Angeles and the wetter regions on which the city relies for water.” The article tells us that southern climate patterns are creeping northward, so L.A.’s climate may come to more closely resemble northern Baja California’s”: hotter and drier.
In regard to water sources, some changes are noticeable as well: the Rocky Mountain snowmelt that feeds the Colorado River and once filled Lake Powell in Arizona has diminished since the start of the 21st Century and Lake Mead behind the Hoover dam reached its lowest level in history last month, both because of the drying Colorado River watershed and competing uses in increasingly populous Western states.
The paraprosdokian about “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” which states that “in so doing you can always count on the support of Paul,” continues to ring true when we talk about fossil fuel companies. Our campaign finance system gives this statement a whole new meaning, especially when it comes to pollution. Apparently, pollution is okay as long as one is willing to pay for it monetarily regardless of the damage done to the air we breathe and the long term effect on the sustainability of human life. How can a monetary price be established for long term damage to life? Such a question is merely rhetorical. They say that money can’t buy happiness but it surely takes some pressure off. Well, how can money buy a longer life for humanity? That’s possible only for the very short term. It is impossible as a long term strategy because short term gain equals long term loss. So, robbing Peter to pay Paul only works short term. Paul can’t extend the life-sustaining elements of Planet Earth even with Peter paying the price.
Exploring the subject of holding fossil fuel companies responsible for damages could be considered a whole new science. Seth Shulman’s article in the Union of Concerned Scientists magazine: “The Mounting Case Against Fossil Fuel Companies” discusses the subject: “The UCS Science Hub for Climate Litigation is working to hold major fossil fuel producers accountable for their share of damages by bringing the latest climate sciences to the courtroom.”
“We have mentioned climatic conditions around the western US but looking to the eastern coast provides equally as disparaging news. City Dock, the historic downtown district of Annapolis, Maryland, has been flooded a historic 65 times during high tides in 2019, causing some shops and restaurants to close. This has required a $65 million adaptation plan and an anticipated $45 million seawall to be built.”
“Annapolis has sued Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and nearly two dozen other fossil fuel companies to help pay for it all. Nothing seems to get the attention of such matters like monetary penalties. The lawsuit claims “the companies’ production of oil, gas, and coal is largely responsible for the increasing amount of climate-driven damage inflicted on the low-lying city, and that the defendants knew about the harm their products were causing for decades but actively worked to deceive policymakers, shareholders, and the public about it.”
The article states that a 2014 UCS report “Encroaching Tides,” stated that “without dramatic restrictions in carbon emissions, Annapolis is likely to face as many as 350 days of tidal flooding annually by 2040. To help prove the companies knew about the threat their products posed to the climate, the lawsuit quotes internal company documents published by UCS in its Climate Deception Dossier report and in the 2007 work “Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air,” which detailed Exxon’s funding of third parties who mislead the public about climate science.”
Hot air is doing the damage in more ways than one. We blow hot air into ourselves so we can ignore the hot air which we are creating each and every day as we choose short term pleasure over long term survival. Future generations of Earth inhabitants deserve better consideration than hot air. They are going to get hot air to breathe because of the hot air we feed ourselves as we refuse to take necessary steps to placate the threat to mankind. We can do better. We must do better!