Poor Puerto Rico, she is now two hurricanes behind. Understandably so, since, of late, five-hundred-year hurricanes, floods, and droughts, …., have been coming every five years or so. Another one strikes before we can recover from the previous. And, it will only get worse. With each season, we will be getting further, and further behind. In Florida alone, $100 Billion in damages from Ian. How much would it cost to build buildings, infrastructure, …, that can withstand a category 5 hurricane? Are underground utilities, housing, …, even viable options in an area of rising sea level? How much time do we have? What is the cost of a home that only last five years? Or, how much will it cost to insure a Florida coastal home against hurricane damage?
The increased frequency, and severity, of weather phenomenon, is directly attributable to the burning of fossil fuels. So it is that to some extent, all the generations since the advent of the industrial age who have lived in the ‘modern’ world are to blame. It didn’t have to come to this. Man has had forewarning for nearly two hundred years that something was amiss with the earth’s atmosphere. For one-hundred-sixty that carbon dioxide emissions were a likely culprit by way of the greenhouse effect. Science has known the mechanics of global warming for more than eighty-five years now.
In 1824, Joseph Fourier (yes, that Fourier) calculated that something was going wrong with the earth’s temperature; suggested it was something in the atmosphere that was acting as an insulating blanket. In 1856, Eunice Foote (an American scientist/activist, herself of great renown) discovered that that insulating blanket was carbon dioxide and water vapor. In 1860, John Tyndall, a prominent Irish physicist, suggested that slight changes in the earth’s atmospheric composition could produce climatic variations. A year later, Svante Arrhenius, a prominent Swedish scientist, predicted changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the earth’s surface temperatures through the greenhouse effect.
In 1938, Guy Callendar, an English steam engineer, and inventor, connected carbon dioxide increases in the earth’s atmosphere to global warming. Gilbert Plass, a Canadian physicist, formulated the Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change in 1956. Since at least then, we have known enough to know that we needed to begin to act.
Since the 1960s, big oil and big coal (aka the fossils) could not but have known about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of their products. But, theirs was the game of the bottom line. To ward off damage to their bottom lines, the fossils have employed many of the same tactics as those employed by big tobacco in the mid-twentieth century; including the buying off of politicians and the media, lying to the public, and, using advanced marketing techniques to discredit science. Big tobacco did these things in order to continue profiting a bit longer from the sale of products that brought illness and death to their consumers. They wished to slow walk the inevitable. This same lying, buying off and/or bullying of the media, buying of politicians, …; quickly became part of big oil’s and big coal’s arsenal in their fight to slow walk the inevitable. For them, time was money; for the world, the stalling was a disaster.
Though they, the fossils, were those most responsible for the nation’s woefully inadequate response to global warming; they were far from being alone. They had willing accomplices. Car and truck manufacturers, and fossil fuel burning power generating utilities joined them in the lying, and the buying. They, the car and truck manufacturers. and the coal, oil, and gas fired generating facilities, didn’t have $Trillions in oil or coal reserves to protect. They did have massive investments that were premised on the continued burning of fossil fuels; with the associated emission of greenhouse gasses.
Back when, finding politicians for sale wasn’t much of a problem for big tobacco. Today, big oil and big coal (the fossils) have bought themselves a whole political party. A party that they share with dark money, big money, the second amendment crowd, the religious right, …. A party without character, a party of loose morals.
Whatever the fossils have paid out to politicians, marketing firms, phony scientists, and the media is minuscule in comparison to the damage done to date, damage to come, from the burning of their products. For mankind, theirs is the worst bargain ever made. From where we stand today, there is no end in sight, only an endless line of new abnormals. All in the name of the bottom line (and, truth be, of a whole big lot of 401k’s).
Here we are, late 2022. Desperately needing to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while hobbled by a majority of right-wing political hacks on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nary a Republican congressional vote to be had on behalf of taking action to reduce fossil fuel consumption, to reduce the effects. For as far as the eye can see lies more cleanup, repair, and replacement from storm damage due to climate change; more flooded fields, more dry and barren fields; more forests full of dead and dying trees – more forest fires; more depleted aquifers; droughts without end, forests (now, mere remnants of what was once a national treasure) that will never grow back. We see glaciers thousands of years old that had taken thousands of years to form disappear in one generation; rivers that date from the last ice age and beyond drying up; aquifers depleted of their thousands, perhaps millions of years old water. The bill for the burning of fossil fuels has come due and it’s a whopper.