Climate change & the ingratitude of the eighth generation

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Paul Danish

“Why should I do anything for posterity?

What has posterity ever done for me?” —Groucho Marx

Good question that, even if it was intended to be a joke.

The correct answer is because half a billion years of evolution on this planet preclude you from doing anything else — unless you happen to be one of natural selection’s culls.

Nor is the question hypothetical or abstract. It is as real, concrete, relevant and topical as a Boulder City Council resolution.

OK, I admit the analogy is infelicitous, but I was thinking of the resolution the council was expected to pass on March 7 urging the Obama administration to Do Something about climate change.

The resolution, which was introduced by Mayor Applebaum at the urging of the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona, declares that climate change “is not an abstract problem for the future or one that will only affect far-distant places, but rather climate change is happening now, we are causing it, and the longer we wait to act, the more we lose and the more difficult the problem will be to solve.”

It calls on the feds to use the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm).

It’s currently at 385 ppm, according to the resolution (and at 391 ppm and rising at 2 ppm a year, according to NOAA). The Supreme Court has ruled the EPA can regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the act.

Granted, meaningless symbolic acts are a way of life in Boulder, and there is no point in beating up the city council for indulging in the municipal pastime.

What’s interesting is what the council is really trying to do here — which is, despite the “happenin’ now” rhetoric, do the right thing for posterity.

There is, of course, no other rational reason for attempting to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. That’s because if we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, it will be two or three centuries before atmospheric CO2 began to drop. Like it or not, the planet is going to keep getting warmer for centuries just on the strength of the CO2 that’s been released up to now. Today’s level of global warming, and then some, is a done deal, yea unto the seventh generation.

So the only reason to reduce our carbon footprint today is the hope that the eighth generation will get something out of it — to do the right thing for posterity, in other words.

Too bad the eighth generation isn’t going to see it that way.

When that glorious day finally arrives when CO2, temperatures and sea level all begin to fall, the eighth generation will be angry beyond belief. They will curse our names and piss on our graves.

The reason why the advent of the global cooling will not be met with huzzas and hosannas is that the eighth generation will have adapted to global warming. Embraced the suck. Learned to live with it. More than learned to live with it. Learned to thrive in it. Learned to thrive because of it.

And they will be horrified by the prospect of having to re-adapt to a colder world, just as we would be horrified by the the prospect of having to re-adapt to ice age conditions.

None of this, of course, will deter the city council from trying to fight climate change instead of preparing the city to adapt to it.

However, if the council is bound and determined to pass resolutions nagging the government to cut CO2 emissions, it ought to have the integrity to state within those resolutions, with candor and precision, exactly what steps they will and will not support for reducing atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 ppm.

For example,would the council favor replacing all of the nation’s coal-fired power plants with nuclear ones — which would eliminate the burning of 1 billion tons of coal a year?

No nukes? OK, would it favor converting all of the nation’s coal-fired power plants to natural gas, which would cut their CO2 emissions in half? If yes, would it favor a crash program to develop U.S. shale gas reserves through the use of horizontal drilling and fracking?

Would it favor installing 150 450-foot-high wind turbines on City of Boulder open space, which would produce enough green electricity to meet all of the city’s electric needs?

Alternatively, would it favor using 6,400 acres (10 square miles) of City of Boulder open space for a solar power plant capable of meeting the city’s electric demand?

And so on. All of the above require the sort of hard choices and real trade-offs that are mandatory if CO2 levels are to be stopped from rising any further, never mind cut to 350 ppm, and there is little reason to believe that the Boulder City Council — and more important, the people who elected it — have the stomach to make them.

Which is good news for the eighth generation.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.