As a scientist, I implore all of you other science-minded activists to recognize that this current round of protests is yet another byproduct of a system that thrives on controversy without regard logical discussion of rational solutions. It’s a really just a bunch of noise and clever memes.
As a car guy, I am going to use the transportation sector as a quick (I know that’s unlikely, but I will try…) example.
We in America love our cars. We like making them, we like driving them. Our country is big, and we have a lot of people, and we churn out a lot of exhaust. Regardless of whatever data is out there on climate change and carbon emissions, no one can argue that we burn up a lot of gas. Burning gas puts out two kinds of stuff: really nasty stuff and carbon dioxide. OK, that’s oversimplifying, but still: there is the poisonous smog stuff and then there is the CO2.
Back in the days of hair metal and cassette tapes, the nasty stuff was really nasty. People killed themselves with cars – literally – as the carbon monoxide alone was enough to snuff you out. With modern cars and the incredible, scientifically-designed systems, that’s not going to work. So if the political turmoil puts you over the edge, you are going to have to resort to another method. (As expected, firearms are numero uno here in the states, where hanging is the most prevalent worldwide. But neither fact has anything to do with the underlying cause of suicide, or climate change).
OK, so through science we have come an incredible distance dealing with the nasties of exhaust, but we are still left with that pesky CO2. How to reduce that.
I know, legislate it! We will simply make a law that says cars will have to get incredible gas mileage! Like 54 miles to the gallon! Done.
Oops. Maybe not.
See, the reality is that cars are tools that do work for us. We don’t like to do things like move ourselves and our stuff around on our own power (which some countries call walking). That work requires energy, our favorite source of energy for transportation is gas. The more work, the more gas you burn. Yes, you can make things more efficient, and we have. But there is a limit, and we are really close to that physical limit. In other words, science has run out of options. Or at least real-world options. We can make laws about gas mileage, but those laws won’t change the laws of physics that say things like if you want to move big vehicles with air-conditioning and heated seats and crumple zones and iPod adapters around town, it is going to take energy.
So let’s apply some advanced math: 4 people in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon is equivalent to 1 person in a car that gets 100 mpg. Except the first scenario is not only realistic, it can be done today. However, the second scenario is completely unattainable; it would require sacrificing safety and comfort standards that we are not going to do. It would be almost as uncomfortable as riding a bicycle.
By the way, I tried to calculate the effective miles per gallon of a person on a bike, but there are so many variables, like how many burritos the rider ate, and how much gas was burned growing the corn for the tortillas, it’s just too much.
But what all of this advanced math should show you is that we have very real options, right now, right in front of us. But there is a big problem with those options: we won’t really like implementing them. We don’t actually want to do things like walk and ride bikes and carpool and take public transportation. What we want is for science to make it so we don’t have to do these things. I mean, a clean environment is one thing, but it shouldn’t impact our lifestyle.
And if a legislator suggested mandating any of these things, it would be political suicide.
Which brings us back to those politics, and all of the debate about science and the environment. One side takes the “pro-environment” stance, and who can argue with that? You want a clean world to live in, yes? So, they put out unrealistic regulations that have the appearance of being logical and supportive of our environment, that don’t require citizens to actually contribute. Sweet. And the biggest complainers are the auto makers, who clearly are just bitching because this is going to cut into their bottom line, and that’s the only thing those evil bastards care about anyway. It’s us vs. them! Perfect!
And then there is backlash from the other side, who in a fit of world-burning insanity want to repeal those same regulations. And a bunch of other stuff that is actually very important but happens to be tied up in this mess but is lost in the minutia because we aren’t actually looking for solutions, we are just trying to appear to be doing so.
And in the end, nothing genuinely productive happens, we just get all riled up and active, ready to do all kinds of work to oppose the other side. Which is only going to serve to increase the illogical divide between us – yes, illogical, because no one wants to actually burn the earth, we simply aren’t communicating.
If you really want change, then change the people making the decisions and the way they operate.
Or both sides can keeping protesting. I am sure that’ll work.