Monday, May 11, 2015

ClimateChange and Harvard Magazine: My Jaw Dropped

For my sins – and especially the sin of having gone to Harvard University at one point – I used to get an alumnus copy of Harvard Magazine.  I cancelled my subscription last year, when a fatuous article by a Harvard professor of environmental science recommended that the US allow the Keystone XL pipeline without the slightest effort to explain why James Hansen (far more expert in climate science than the professor) had said “Keystone XL means game over for the environment”.  At that time, it was clear to me that Harvard Magazine’s editors had not the slightest idea that there was anything wrong with the article, and not the slightest intention of boning up on the subject because of the gravity of the issue.
However, other members of the family still get the rag, and I took a brief look at an article in the latest issue about “why the US may be on the cusp of a [sustainable} energy revolution.”  And, although I was braced for something clueless, my jaw still dropped.  Here’s the quote (condensed):
“Beyond the connection between long-term climate change and the use of energy … lies another stark reality: the total amount of fossil fuel on earth is finite, and so, inevitably, eventually, ‘We will run out.’”
Not sure why this is so awful a framing of the article’s issues?  Try this equivalent.  In the middle of global nuclear war, Harvard Magazine publishes the following:
“We need to think about beginning to substitute something else for atomic bombs, because, at this rate, in about twenty years (long after the rubble has stopped bouncing) we will run out of uranium.”
And the rest of the article shows absolutely no consciousness of what climate science is predicting.  The focus is on wind power.  Double the wind speed means four times the energy, so the middle (windiest) 1/3-1/6 of the US should be covered with turbines – no mention of the likelihood that average wind speed is likely to increase by 1/3 over the next 30 years, nor that wind patterns are likely to change (as they are already doing in winter because of the disruption of the jet stream), so that the middle third of the US may not be the windiest.  Offshore wind farms are good with regard to wind speed but more expensive to build – no mention of the likelihood that East Coast waters are likely to rise by a foot over the next 35 years, drowning low-lying turbines, or that higher-category hurricane patterns that might overstress the turbines are also likely.  And then there’s the assertion that biofuels are renewable – it’s not clear what the article is referring to, since corn ethanol production and use can in some cases involve more carbon emissions than oil, while cellulosic ethanol is not yet as widely used.
To summarize:  Harvard Magazine is by no means a set of climate change deniers – there is no sense that the truth is something to twist in order to make money for oneself, no matter the consequences.  Rather, Harvard Magazine is a representative of what I would call, in drug addiction terms, enablers.  Their minds are simply not open to the possibility that delay involves exponentially increasing costs and deaths.  And so, they allow deniers to carry the day by sheer weight of inertia, just as enablers multiply addiction’s costs simply by deciding that they don’t need to face the addiction problem just yet.
I am reminded of someone once saying of an outrageous act, “It wasn’t just immoral – it was downright stupid.”  But, heavens, how could someone like Harvard be stupid?  In the words of Westbrook Pegler, that last sentence “was writ ironical.”

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