Global warming: There is no solution…as long as we look to Washington to provide it

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting and some scientists say there is no way to stop it. Credit: NASAThe Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting and some scientists say there is no way to stop it. Credit: NASA

There was panic all around this week with reports of ice sheets breaking up in Antarctica and usually dependable journalists like Robert Sameulson declaring that there is no solution to global warming.

No solution? Nonsense. Of course there’s a solution. What’s holding everything back is that most of the media and nearly all of our politicians are letting the wrong people dominate the discussion.

One hundred years ago a handful of visionaries, inventors and businessmen took coal and oil and used them to create the wealth and ease we enjoy today. Before that, 80 percent of us were tied down in subsistence farming and drudgery.

The people who brought us out of that were all doers, men of action and enterprise: John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Enrico Fermi, Henry Ford, Nicola Tesla…right on up to the engineers at NASA who put 12 American men on the moon.

By contrast today, the people who dominate the global warming conversation are talkers rather than doers. They don’t know machines, they don’t know construction, manufacturing, camshafts, crankshafts or technology. Most don’t know anything about running a business and creating a product. They are, as one critic put it,  just “symbol manipulators.“ Soft-skinned men with $100 haircuts and funny French shoes.

Writers today, are even worse. Doomsday Cassandras, Chicken Littles, Eyores, all. Whatever happened to the visionary spirit we saw with Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury? Fifty years ago, fiercely intelligent beings from other planets were the rage in popular books and movies. Today zombies and vampires dominate popular culture.

No wonder people are glum about the future.

Whether global warming is happening or not, reasonable minds can probably agree that we need to start tempering our use of energy. In many ways, we’ve already started down that path. The United States has already surpassed the greenhouse gas goals set for it in the Kyoto Protocols. This is almost entirely due to fracking and the tapping of natural gas resources here.

We should be celebrating the fact that the U.S. continues to lead the world in the amount of prosperity created per unit of energy. We’re getting more than three times as much wealth out of barrel of oil or a ton of coal than we did in 1980. Additionally, the near future holds much promise from the work being done on diesel-electric hybrids, fuel cell technology, and natural gas fuels.

The solution is already well underway and the government has played a role in the past with CAFE standards for cars and trucks and energy efficiency codes and standards for homes and appliances. But all our current political class seems to want to do is promote carbon taxes and credits, which is a clever way to make themselves rich and the rest of us poor.

Much more work needs to be done to make the most efficient use of our hydrocarbons whether it’s to halt global warming or just preserve this blessing for as many future generations as possible. And honestly, it may take another 100 years and unprecedented levels of international cooperation to get to maximum efficiency and sustainability from our energy sources.

It may require rethinking, retooling and redesigning not only technology, but architecture, agriculture, transportation and the design and scale of our cities.  It’s a job for doers, not talkers; visionaries, not technologically illiterate killjoys.

Despair is not a plan. Media-driven fear mongering, grand speeches and tax schemes are not enough. And that’s all Washington seems to be able to peddle right now.