Cleveland: Keeping Christmas at Home
Ramona: The War on Happy Holidays
Richard Day: Cold in Minnesota, and in the Hearts of Men
Imagine the 2 leaders of the world's Conservative movement agreeing that industry is destroying the environment, and taking decisive, concerted action to stop it.
That in effect is what happened in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol, to ban CFCs, which took effect less than 2 years later and had drastically beneficial effects on the Ozone Hole.
Of course it wasn't just conservatives who pushed this measure, and it was based on science that evolved over a decade, but from the view of 2012 it's still amazing. Now the conservative official line is that man can't really affect the environment, which rather than relying on the "6000" history of the world, simply denies confirmed reality of 25 years ago. Work across the aisle for the sake of the Environment? Pshaw. Rio? D.O.A.
The Ozone experience doesn't confirm that all Global Warming predictions are correct. However, the basic premise, anthropomorphic global warming, is based on the confirmed premise that our industry and living habits can significantly affect the environment - and the health effects of unprotected sun for creatures under the hole were significant as well.
What's also odd about this is that one of the key claims is that global warming worriers were worried about global cooling in the 1970's. That of course was a minority blip opinion, compared to the major consensus and coordinated response for the CFC / Ozone concern over the subsequent decade.
However, we also have a growing sense of the techno-skeptic on the left. With some common-sense causes, the shift from a pro-internet dotcom boom to the subsequent (short-lived) crash, global warming flare-up and the helplessness in view of terrorism threat seems to have give us a fatality about our technical systems and approach.
Instead of global warming being something to understand and evolve a response to, we're in a panic. Even while our understand of science including environmental/oceanic/energy use is taking yearly leaps and bounds, our mode is "act now, study later".
That reaction has some justification, as studying issues to death has been one dear method of killing off actual action.
However, daily we're getting scientific breakthroughs, whether confirming the Bose particle, nanotube cooling, room-temperature quantum computing, speed of battery recharging....
Where is our estimate of innovation acceleration? For the next few years, average computer performance is likely to greatly exceed Moore's Law thanks to changes from standard hard drives to flash SSD devices, improved miniaturization and cooling, better I/O, improved in-memory caching and changes in algorithmic approaches (big data and the like), while cloud computing is giving supercomputer-like performance to millions as a monthly utility bill (companies like Twitter can now go without their own data center).
Those improvements will filter back into scientific efforts in energy, atmospheric sciences and other areas with tight budgets.
The high price of petrol has also increased investments into energy alternatives, and while fracking is seen as delaying peak oil, it won't lower the costs - higher investment in the coming future is guaranteed, including now practical electric cars. The situation isn't perfect for mass adoption, and even changes by 2030 will be modest, but the landscape is moving.
Additionally, for climate change, we're getting massively more data than we had 5 years ago, our techniques, sensors and analysis are improving. In a field that's long been dominated by supercomputing, the access to greatly superior machines and new ways of crunching data - worldwide, not just in a few US & European labs - creates a ballooning international cooperative space as well.
Germany & Switzerland are carrying out a massive experiment where they close nuclear reactors while lowering carbon outputs. Meanwhile nuclear energy - free of CO2 - is expanding in Asia, presumably with much more efficient designs.
How lessons learned will be applied to policy remains to be seen, but models of the past have sometimes been guess work, and escalating intricacy both in measurement and prediction will help refine theories & spur responsive action.
So given the likelihood that we won't be underwater or out of gas by 2030, where's our optimism? How do we then drive the rest of the century? How do we restore the fragile balance that let Ronnie & Maggie support treehugging goals that are no longer speakable on the right? How far will the left allow themselves to believe in the technical/political/public policy success of fixing these big problems? And what's the way these problems have to be addressed in order to make legislation palatable or at least passable?
(hint: many folks still seem more concerned about pocketbook than save-the-planet - even if it's close to home - but somehow 25 years ago we managed to plug a hole in the sky, and it didn't seem that tough at the time)