The Point of No Return Lands Us Right Back Where We Started

The History Channel began airing a special titled Two Degrees: The Point of No Return on Friday night, September 15. I survived about five minutes before my own temperature started to rise alarmingly. Here are some reactions based upon that minimal exposure.

The documentary appears to be somewhat more credible than Mermaids.

The two fatal degrees actually refer to the Celsius system, meaning that they equate to nearly four degrees in the Fahrenheit system more familiar to us laymen. No attempt to dramatize there, I’m sure.

The footage of Arctic icebergs releasing sheets of ice into the ocean has been so widely circulated among the documentary community that I quite literally saw it fifteen minutes later on another station where the Ice Age was being discussed.

Juxtaposing footage of melting icebergs, ambulances on a tear, hurricane-flooded streets, and high-rises in conflagration is a very sorry substitute for rational argument.

Similarly, footage of smokestacks belching out pillars of fumes is evidence of nothing whatever. Most of the billowing effluvient may be water vapor (i.e., steam); and the videos themselves may have been taken in 1968 or 1975, or at any point over the past fifty years when pollution controls were lax to non-existent. The documentary’s argument, of course, would not be served by acknowledging that we’ve gotten much, much better—not in China, but in the West—about filtering out toxic particles.

Is it entirely arch, by the way, to observe in passing how much this kind of fear-mongering serves the imperialist ends of Communist China, its objective being to curb our own industrial production rather than to point the finger at immensely more zealous offenders? Might full disclosure reveal some modest involvement of the PRC in this production, I wonder… wonder… wonder?

The opening assertion that, in the century and a half since weather records have been kept, eight of the hottest ten years have occurred in the last decade is a prima facie absurdity. You cannot take the planet’s temperature the way you take a sick child’s. In 1880, a great many reaches of the planet were not even fully explored. Today as then, furthermore, many areas where temperature readings may be harvested in abundance are, naturally, urbanized—and we can indeed say confidently that urbanization has both increased over the past century and that urban construction heats things up. But…

But the manmade activity in the crosshairs isn’t hyper-reflective, headache-inducing steel and concrete, all of which god-awful mess I detest as much as anyone on earth; the culprit is supposed to be CO2, which alone (for some reason) must take the rap for nudging up the mercury. But…

But plants love CO2. They eat the stuff up. I’ve never seen the desert Southwest so green as it was this past summer. Is that bad? Does that spell the end for us all?

Well, yes… because mosquitoes will descend upon New York and Boston just as they currently do upon, say, Brazil. Bet you didn’t know that there actually aren’t any human beings still alive in Brazil. The mosquitoes got ’em all.

I could go on. I could question, for instance, why the same people who want to shut down our industries (but not the PRC’s) also want our southern border flung wide open so that millions of blue-collar workers driving uninspected, high-emission smoke-bombs can take their place in our twice-a-day rush-hour traffic. But…

But my temperature is starting to rise again. Yeah, I hate car culture and the contemporary American city. Hate it more than the ambassadors of Green who fly innumerable jets to endless conferences in Seattle. But kindly stop insulting my intelligence with the Halloween panoply of skeletons and ghouls held together by paperclips and Elmer’s glue. Come back after you’ve done your homework, and try to talk like an adult.

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Perspective: Nowhere in Sight

(I wrote the following last weekend, before Harvey made landfall.  Now our most publicized preoccupations seem more idiotic than ever.)

Let’s get really ticked off about Confederate statues and monuments that have sat collecting bird droppings for well over a century! That’s an important issue: everybody pile on–show your true colors or forever be branded a racist bastard! Never mind that many of the works were created with real artistry and add to their ambiance (I mean, by being stone or bronze); never mind that most people nowadays actually take zero leisurely walks per year across the town square or the capitol grounds; never mind that almost no one today could tell a Confederate colonel’s uniform from that of one of Her Majesty’s fusiliers without the nameplate on the plinth, or that we could easily cover up any distinctive marking on the jacket and then replace the plate with, “unknown soldier of the nineteenth century”.

The statues are a huge problem–much bigger than, say, the piddling inconvenience that most recent high school graduates believe the nineteenth century to be the 1900’s, or that most cannot place the Civil War in the correct century, anyway; or that an immense majority is unaware of the role African Muslims and Yankee slave ships played in human trafficking, or that certain Northern states allowed legal ownership of slaves–and that Lincoln grandfathered in their privilege when he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Stop muddying the issue! It’s clear racism! Statue… racism! It’s that simple!

And let’s start getting serious about Climate Change now that Texans are being punished by the Weather God for collectively deriding the notion! Let’s save the planet while we still can! Never mind that climate is not weather, and that weather patterns of about half a century are required to propose any hypothesis about climate–and that the atmosphere is only about .04% carbon dioxide, or that plants love the stuff and need it to breathe out oxygen for us, or that the same highly centralized government upon which we want to confer the clean-up duties has been covertly fooling around for two decades with the strategic manipulation of weather systems. It’s the capitalist private sector that’s responsible for poisoning us–shut up about the satellite photos of yellow smog over major Chinese cities! And I know nobody wants to hear about how the Soviets were planning to warm up the climate in the early Sixties by channeling the Humboldt Current far up into the Arctic.

We could actually be applying all the money and brainpower that’s researching Climate Change to figuring out how the super-volcano under Yellowstone Park might be diffused before its next eruption, likely to envelope the planet in a nuclear winter that could quite possibly exterminate all terrestrial life. But no, you’re right: those waters inching their way up beaches along Chesapeake Bay are much, much more worrisome.

And we’ve got to do something about people using gender-specific pronouns! EMP… EMSchmee! What does that stand for, anyway? Who cares? Everybody knows the talk about the power grid going down is just a bunch of claptrap meant to distract us from exploring our gender identity! Ninety percent of Americans won’t really die in a year if Kim Jong Un explodes one of his raggedy-ass little nukes in our stratosphere (or if the sun has one of its overdue major flare-ups). Haven’t you seen all those windmills out west? We’ve got that covered. Now, let’s get back to important things. What’s on your restroom door?

I want my society and my nation to survive… but what concerns me more every week is that, in a Darwinian sense, we seem unworthy of survival. Why should so many idiots be allowed to occupy so much of the planet’s limited space?

Amarillo: Boondoggle on the Staked Plains

In trying to lay out hotel reservations for a long trip recently, I found myself in need of a place to spend the night in North Texas. Not a lot of choices: Amarillo was the obvious one. Yet I hesitated, because I dimly remembered some problem with that city a couple of years back when I was planning stops along the same route. Well, maybe there had been a convention at the time… so I tried again. Rooms at any place nicer than the Budget Super Zero started at $150: sure enough, that’s pretty steep. Must be because there’s literally nothing else by way of hostel or settlement in North Texas, and people cramming in a late summer vacation on their way to Santa Fe or Phoenix or the People’s Republic of California have no options if they don’t wish to drive all night.

Okay, $150. Then I make a few clicks and prepare to confirm, when I notice that the taxes piled onto the already rather whopping bill are… $75! The bill increases by fifty percent to pay the damn taxes! Why, why do you pay so much tax when you pass through Amarillo?

The only reasonable answer I can divine is that the windmill-building and fracking industries are booming in the area—and local government is doing everything it can to cash in on the bonanza while it lasts. After all, if you’re traveling in connection with a major energy-producer, your expense account will readily absorb an extortionate tax (since your company intends to turn around and extort the consumer).

Now, I have my reservations about fracking. The strange incidence of earthquakes in some areas where the procedure is performed (and very unusual near-to-surface earthquakes) is a worry. But at least fracking yields a tangible result that is creating substantial energy-independence for the nation.

On the other hand, if you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I go downright livid at the thought of windmills. They are not delivering sufficient energy to justify their existence; and by the time better technology exists, we’ll be stuck with thousands of these monstrosities in the heartland whose dismantling will be almost as costly as their assembly. Meanwhile, flatbed trucks are chugging and grinding to transport single blades out into the middle of nowhere, eating up diesel fuel every mile of the way.

On top of all that, I now realize (or am pretty darn sure) that local businesses and municipalities have probably lobbied for these gigantic exercises in futility. Ka-ching, ka-ching. If you still want to tell yourself that you support that endeavor because you believe in natural, renewable energy, then keep singing yourself to sleep with the same refrain… but you’d better keep your eyes firmly shut and the lights turned off.

“Planet-Saving” Scams: The Stupidity and the Outrage

In case I haven’t written enough about this before… let me urge anyone who reads these scribbles to view words and phrases like “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable”, and “renewable” with extreme skepticism when they appear in the context of energy. The California legislature, in its interminable and terminal stupidity, has apparently decided to require that all new houses be equipped with solar panels and that all farms devote 25 percent of their acreage to windmills. One idiot legislator was chirping about all the new jobs that will be created by the heavy-handed mandate; and when questioned about how the consumer will pay the roofing crews who profit from the artificial bonanza, he blithely responded that the federal government would pick up the tab in the form of tax credits and rebates. That means YOU, my dear, and I: WE shall pay for California’s decision to “act responsibly” and “save the planet”. I thought Californians wanted to secede… so what’s holding them up?

Umm, and about “saving the planet”… just a few words. The rare-earth elements with which solar panels are coated—delightful stuff like cadmium and mercury—are so toxic that they can’t even be mined legally in this country. In the Third World and China (i.e., where people will shorten their lives just to eat for what time they have, or where their government doesn’t give a damn if they live or not), the locations where such mining is done are known as “cancer villages”. The life expectancy falls well short of thirty. So the next time you’re congratulating yourself for being environmentally responsible and saving the planet, say a little prayer for the children whom your virtue sent to an early grave… would you, please? And by the way, the panels need replacing every twenty-five or thirty years. Their energy output is not indefinitely sustainable.

As for windmills, every time I drive west or up into the heartland, I’m infuriated. There are quite literally thousands and thousands of the things. The landscape west of Abilene was never lyrically beautiful, but it once had a kind of sublimity that I found uplifting. Now vast tracts of land from West Texas to… yes, California… look like some kind of Siberian gulag for misbehaving fans—or perhaps like an infinite gauntlet of paddles awaiting some class of sinners in Dante’s lower Inferno. I’ve never seen all of the blades turning at once, and few of them ever turn very fast. Imagine the rate at which a turbine would be spinning at the base of a mediocre waterfall, and then compare that mental picture to the pathetic gyrations of these regimented titans. It is simply inconceivable that the horde of creaky monstrosities will pay for itself in less than a century. Each blade exceeds the length of a flatbed truck and must be hauled expensively (using God knows how much gas, by the way) from whatever industrial hub produced it (using God knows how much oil or coal, by the way). And there they sit, thousands upon thousands of them, all but motionless and about as scenic as the smokestacks of nineteenth-century Manchester. So far, though many are perched in prime tornado territory, we haven’t seen the consequences of their huge blades being torn asunder near a population center. And in the very near future—far sooner than a century—when we have discovered some infinitely cheaper energy source, we will face the further risk and expense of having to take them down.

Meanwhile, the industrial donors to these idiot politicians who sell their “clean energy” programs to you, the idiot public, keep raking in the taxpayer’s cash. We are creating jobs, you know! And meanwhile, as well, those of the emoji generation who need to slap a little icon or bumper-sticker on their conscience to show that they care about the planet as they check their messages and scroll through YouTube have the drive-through fix they crave. At what a cost! But what do they care? Just as long as everyone knows they “care”.

Animal Planet Peddles More Unicorns

I think “cryptozoology” is a really fascinating subject. The assumption is always made by the general public (and usually fed by professionals in the sciences, who don’t like to admit that something might possibly lie beyond their ken) that we must surely have discovered by now every life form on Planet Earth. This is an ignorant, arrogant leap of faith. Because most of us have now squeezed ourselves into “megalopolis” or into one of the concentric rings of suburbia enclosing it, we can’t imagine any weird creature’s escaping detection. One thing we fail to consider is that our collective influx into cities has left rural areas depopulated. Yes, the explosion of human inhabitants in all quarters of the globe would seem to compensate for any relative diminution in the percentage of people filling this or that corner. I doubt that this proposition is unassailable, however. Comparatively few though we were a hundred years ago, our overwhelmingly agricultural society still concentrated its strength very heavily in the boondocks. Now any drive along a rural highway (and how many of us ever take such a drive?) reveals desolation on all sides. Abandoned houses are falling apart everywhere, and seldom does any new structure rear its satellite dish in their place.

People who should find themselves in the country for some reason are also less likely now to know its sights and sounds. They can’t tell a wolf’s cry from a coyote’s or a crow’s call from a caracara’s. The situation where a tenderfoot thinks he may have seen a chupacabra when he’s only run across a large stray dog often works in reverse, thanks to such ignorance: a person might see an unidentified species and assume that it is a familiar one. Witnesses in shooting incidents almost invariably say that they at first thought the gunshots were a backfiring car. The stronger tendency of the human mind is to blend the unique into the commonplace, not the other way around.

Thirdly, the encroachment of human beings on so many once-remote parts of the natural environment can create opportunities for more resourceful species that were formerly hard-pressed. Squirrels are much more abundant in suburbia than in the wilderness. Humans have chased off or killed most natural predators (foxes, snakes, hawks) while allowing the “cuddly, adorable” little fur-ball to chew up orchards and attics unmolested. If something extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent like a Sasquatch did exist, an invasion of humans that thinned out rival predators like panthers and bears while allowing food sources like deer and squirrel to proliferate might actually improve the outlook for survival.

All of this is merely to say that I was looking forward to the first episode of Animal Planet’s Destination: Mungo last Sunday. Quite a letdown. Once again, we are treated to a showman who expensively, ostentatiously makes his way to some forgotten corner of the planet… and then spends one night in the “hot spot” to see if his infrared cameras are activated by anything larger than a rat. Bwana Mungo hasn’t even heard of the coelacanth, apparently (and hasn’t yet figured out how to pronounce the word, either). In one scene, he contacts his biologist buddy in the States to ask if the Postosuchus, a Triassic ancestor of the crocodile, might really exist today, as Liberian locals are reporting. Responding via satellite through a laptop linked to a smartphone, the suitably bearded academic tells an inspirational story. “Have you heard of the coelacanth, Mungo?” “No, never. Tell me about it.” Oh, please!

In the first place, the coelacanth’s presumed date of extermination was considerably closer to our own time than the late Triassic (by a factor of close to a thousand). In the second place, coelacanths inhabit ocean trenches and would be virtually undetectable to human beings in the normal course of events. In the third place, of course Mungo has heard of the coelacanth! I learned of its lately discovered survival into the present when I was a young boy—a professional wildlife photographer and cryptozoology enthusiast could no more have remained ignorant of the subject than a physicist could fail to have heard of a quark. And finally, biologist buddy’s fishing stories transmitted by satellite, however inspirational, are insufficient reason for Mungo to rise from his laptop feeling new confidence in his quest. He hasn’t garnered a single particle of arcane information about tropical African fauna that might be seen as assisting his search. The whole exchange is highly staged and utterly ridiculous… almost as bad as a mockumentary about mermaids.

So… my quest of credible shows on the subject of cryptozoology continues as we permanently put the Amusement Park of Mungo at our backs. I’m looking for something rarer than a unicorn, it seems. In the meantime, old episodes of River Monsters are far less a waste of time.

As the Titanic Sinks, the Captain Worries About Flu Season

Since the subject of climate change arose the last time I wrote… why, may I ask, does the scientific community not apply its collective genius to solving crises that will certainly occur, quite possibly before the twenty-second century, and that may very probably become extinction events? As the ship sinks beneath us, why are we logging onto the Medicare site rather than looking for life vests?

We know that Yellowstone National Park sits atop the huge caldera of a smoking super-volcano. The giant has already exploded once in recent geological history: that’s why we have Yellowstone, with its vast mountain basin and restless geysers. The thing remains a ticking timebomb. Its next eruption will most certainly decimate life in neighboring regions almost instantly, its spreading umbrella of ash will plunge North America into nuclear winter within days, and its long-term effects over the ensuing decade might well wipe out most terrestrial life on the planet.

This eruption will happen, sooner or later. Do we have a plan on the drawing board for diffusing the pressure when magma starts to swell the chimney of a super-volcano (for there are several of these monsters around the globe)? Nope. Nada. So let’s just continue expending our time and resources on talking about how to keep Manhattan’s streets above water if the polar icecaps shrink.

Also a lead-pipe cinch to occur is a major asteroidal collision with Planet Earth. We don’t know “when”… but we do know that our Moby Dick is already silently cruising out there in the Asteroid Belt. Again, as with a super-volcanic eruption, the plume of ash following upon such a strike would envelope the world in a thick cloud within months, and virtually no eatable crops would grow anywhere for years. Most life would be exterminated. And the plan for averting the collision is… well, not even on any official drawing board at the moment.

But we’ll think of something when Moby Dick surfaces and we have about six months to Contact. The scientists will think of something. Let’s not pull them off the important work of trying to re-draw Florida’s coastline on the basis of certain computer simulations fed certain assumptions about climate change.

Query: why are extinction-risk events whose eventual likelihood sits at one hundred percent less important to the government-funded scientific establishment than the possibility of manmade climate change and its conjectured inconveniences? Could it be because designing a system to de-pressurize super-volcanoes or re-direct a looming mega-asteroid would not require intrusion into the life of every citizen, whereas the answer to climate change always seems to involve new government agencies and regulations that minutely monitor our individual activities?

The good news, I guess, is that if Big Brother’s encroachments worry you, his gluttony spells its own demise. All you have to do is dig a deep bunker and stock it with enough canned and freeze-dried food for ten years. Then, after the deluge, you’ll emerge upon a wasted, windswept landscape that will offer more freedom than you ever dreamed of… and far more than you could ever want.

Does It Matter Who’s Truthful When All Action Is Corrupt?

Have you heard why Megan Kelly really left FOX News? Or why Christina of HGTV’s Flip or Flop really split from her husband, or why the same station’s Joanna Gaines is in hot water for arriving late on the set of Fixer Upper? It’s the same reason in all three cases, according to certain stories that pulse along the side-panel of your screen: they were all so busy marketing the same company’s beauty secrets that the bonanza of prosperity distracted them from their boring day jobs.

This isn’t quite the same level of aggressive, in-your-face duplicity that characterized (for instance) the History Channel’s idiotic “mockumentaries” about mermaids, megalodons, and Sasquatches… but the kinship is of a first-cousin order. “Fake news” is now so embedded in our cultural consciousness that we have apparently given up being outraged by it. “Kim Jong Un just nuked a small Pacific island… and the only survivors were using Apollo Sun Tan Lotion (improved formula)!” We swallow the b.s. with scarcely a grimace. The most worrisome problem is that, should the chubby child of Dearest Friend indeed decide to vaporize an entire populace, we would already have been rehearsed in passing over the news and looking for the next thrill.

“The Boy That Cried Wolf” Syndrome has deeply infected us. I don’t even know if most of my freshmen would recognize the folkloric reference… but I do know that they’re convinced, almost to a boy or girl (or whatever lies between), that human beings are causing a disastrous climate change. Chemistry and biology majors cite data to me that I can’t dispute, since their fields extend far beyond my intellectual reach. So maybe they’re right. But then a celebrated academic appears on national television and claims that carbon dioxide is a more lethal toxin than sarin gas. Even a chemistry-challenged numbskull like me knows the difference between monoxide and dioxide—yet our guru was apparently conflating the two. Could his ilk have been among the teachers of my freshmen?

I don’t like cars. Never have. I probably walk more in a week than most atmospheric scientists do in a year—and I don’t consume jet fuel flying to conferences that might have been held on Skype. Reducing car traffic is fine by me. Why, however, can we not address the problem by scrapping our special-interest-fueled zoning laws and oppressive regulations that prevent people from running shops out of their homes? Why is the “green” solution always more government intrusion into our personal lives? And why are the insane windmills that now deface much of the Southwest a step forward when the effort of constructing, transporting, and rigging their blades requires more energy than they are likely to restore in a century of steady gales?

I will postulate, for the sake of argument, that the science behind climate change is compelling: then why are the measures that we take in consequence so patently ineffective and mired in sordid political boondoggle?

On this issue as on so many others, I don’t know who’s telling the truth, and I don’t think I’m capable of knowing—not in the earthly time I have left. I know this much, however. On one side I see lies proliferating as part of popular cultural and consumerist marketing; on another I see our elected “saviors” getting sleek and fat as specially targeted problems only worsen; and on yet another I see campus culture shutting down free speech with thuggery and shouting down open debate in fanatical zeal. Maybe the wolf is really coming this time… but when the watchdog is a hungry Bengal tiger, maybe I’d rather have the wolf.