After a couple of weeks of very cold weather, you can hear folks say that the whole issue of global warming is a joke. And you also hear people on the other side saying "No, the cold weather is just an indication of how out-of-whack our atmosphere is, which is further evidence of global warming."
Who should you believe?
Should you believe the people who say that the U.S. must stop burning fossil fuels immediately (or at least, by next week) even though many other parts of the world are just as bad if not WORSE polluters than we are? Or should you believe the people who say, it's impossible for anything man-made to affect the entire Earth and our planet is flexible enough to be able to adjust to our excesses?
I'm probably going to upset a lot of people, but I think both parties are wrong.
If the U.S. were somehow able to stop burning fossil fuels even in the next 10 years, that wouldn't solve the problem. If we all went back to living in caves and straw huts, we'd still feel like we had to use heat to stay warm. So, we'd start chopping down trees or burning cow dung like they do in India. Then, we'd have increased problems of de-forestation and bad air.
On the other side of the coin, I think it's folly to believe that man is not having a serious adverse affect on the planet, either through water pollution, air pollution, depletion of resources or whatever. And I agree we need to wake up before it's too late.
I think most studies would show that in terms many pollutants - like C-O-2 emissions from coal-burning power plants and individual automobile exhaust -- the overall air quality in the U.S. is much better than it was a generation ago.
But I think it's fair to say that we ARE having some impact and we SHOULD do things to reduce that impact sooner rather than later. But should we throw our economy into a tail-spin to meet someone's set of specific goals in break-neck fashion, while the world's other major polluters do NOT? No, I think not.
The fly in the ointment is this: how do you tell a developing country, that sees the lifestyle of the West and whose people want that same standard of living that we have: "Sorry, you can't cut down trees and destroy your grasslands and wipe out species like the buffalo, like we did, in the process of getting to where we are now. You have to do things in a more environmentally conscious way."
We have the luxury of telling people in South America, "Please don't destroy the Amazon. The planet needs it to generate oxygen." But the people on the ground are saying "Don't tell us what to do. We have to earn a living and this is the only way we know how to do it."
When you have different cultures at different points along the ladder of cultural development, you have people with differing priorities about what is important.
The only logical way to proceed is to try to increase environmental awareness around the world, work on technologies that reduce reliance on non-renewable fuels, and help behemoth nations like China and India not to make the same mistakes that we did.
That's this week's editorial.