The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Global Warming...and an Alternative Course of Action

You've noticed it's getting a little hotter each year, and you're buying into the concept of global warming. Here's an excellent explanation of why what you're feeling is in fact a reality, at least with respect to the last few decades.  Dr. James Hansen of NASA demonstrates with the use of a statistical probability curve that in fact, the warming trend we've all noticed is, in fact, not a figment of our selective memory.

And here's a nice visualization of the data that Dr. Hansen is presenting above, that demonstrates the recent shift in the temperature curve really took off in the 1980's.

Now, Dr. Hansen is an interesting fellow. He's been at the forefront of the climate change debate for a long while, has been recognized for "clear communication of climate science in the public arena", and is one of the leading activists seeking to curtail the use of fossil fuels, and coal in particular. He's been criticized by folks on both sides of the climate debate, which I suspect means that he is too outspoken with facts that are inconvenient for both sides. Which means I tend to pay attention to what he is saying.

And so, assuming the data above to be valid statistical sample data from representative geographic regions, I would have to agree that we are in a global warming trend. But rather than focus on trying to reverse the warming trend through the "progressive" response of conservation and reduction of energy consumption (which, when you think about it, is actually a regressive than progressive response to the issue), I suggest taking a more pragmatic approach to the challenge.

If we view rising (or even just variable) global temperature as an opportunity instead of a threat, we start to think outside the box of regulatory constraint, and advance into the realm of economic opportunity. Let's take New Orleans as an example. When you stand on the levee of the west bank of the Mississippi, and you realize that the river is much higher than the subdivisions just on the other side of the levee, you tend to think, "Who came up with this idea?"

Now, we're witnessing (and paying for) the repetitive flooding of New Orleans, and we are beginning to assume this is going to happen ever more frequently in the coming years. So, why not move the city? After all, the Chinese have built new cities all over their country even before they need them. Why not move New Orleans inland by fifty or seventy-five miles, say, to the northwest corner of the convergence of I-55 and I-12, or a little farther north? Use public financing to get the whole project started with the most advanced in green building technology. Re-create Bourbon Street and the rest of downtown exactly, street for street, business for business, except with better engineering and materials...make sure everything is LEED-certified, and utilize as many state-of-the art energy sources (and wood products!) in the project as possible. Lots of oil, gas, solar and algae down there, so let's use it to power "Newer" Orleans. Make it a 21st-century demonstration city, one that will dazzle the populace and re-fire our imaginations of what can be done if we set our minds to it.

As a result, we'd have a boom-town here in the U.S. like nothing we've seen since a sleepy place called Orlando sprang to life due to the vision of another entrepreneurial developer named Disney. The construction, real estate, building materials, furniture, computer, and energy technology industries of the region would get long-term, real "stimulus"; modern city planners would get the opportunity to apply all the knowledge learned from the best cities in the world, and we'd have a Newer Orleans better than the original. And the whole thing could be done for a fraction of the cost of our current national budget deficit...and be repaid in surging tax revenues from the re-energized city.

When it comes to responses to the challenge of global warming, let's think bigger and better, not smaller and meaner. The first kind of thinking leads to economic expansion, the latter to economic contraction. Which would you prefer?


jayo said...

While we're building Newer Orleans, let's install enough wood-fired combined heat and power plants to keep the buildings cool and the lights on, thus demonstrating how this "back-to-the future return to one of the oldest fuels" (as a U.K. Independent reporter put it, see below), can work for us today. What would James Hansen say? In 2008, Discover Magazine recognized him as one of the 10 most influential scientists, i.e., "world-changing minds who move science from theory to action." The article notes that "Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for explaining global warming to the world, but James Hansen was the one who explained climate change to Al Gore." (See URL #1 below.) Regardless of your stance on global warming, also consider that after a 2008 interview with Dr. Hansen, a reporter for the U.K. Independent wrote, "Humanity must urgently embark on a massive programme to power civilisation from wood to stave off catastrophic climate change." (See URL #2 below.)

Len said...

It's easy to agree that global warming is a reality. However, the question is, how much has the human factor caused the warming to accelerate, or has it at all? Data reveals that warming and cooling are cyclical. Are we brazen enough to claim that our human footprint has had a significant impact?

Dan C said...

Relocate an entire city? That sounds like the sort of thing an authoritarian, communist government would do. Chuck, don't say you're turning into a leftist extremist! ;)

Perhaps there are other approaches to the changing climate that would work better for a nation that cherishes personal liberty.

Chuck Ray said...


Some folks think so and claim it, others don't. I just see the warming trend, and the climate changes it brings as a whole slew of market opportunities that could help the free economy, and as an alternative to those who see only a regulatory opportunity to increase central power and repress the economy.

Dan C...

Yes, moving people and businesses is no problem for dictatorial regimes. And as you imply, it is in a free society. However, rather than blowing public money on various dubious insider enrichment schemes (there are way too many to single out just one) we might be better served to invest in policy and programs that will result in positive, tangible, on-the-ground improvement to our infrastructure and the economy. So much of what we call "public investment" is not at all...even repairing existing roads and bridges are continuing expenses, not investments. Whereas instituting exchange and incentive programs to give business owners and homeowners access to their real estate equity in order to enable them to move to a modernized, cleaner, safer environment, before they get washed out to sea, seems like a pretty good thing to do.

If we can't figure out a way to do it as a nation, it would seem that there are at least some things that totalitarian governments can achieve that free capitalist societies can't. We don't really believe that, do we?

Other approaches? Such as...?