Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Global Challenge, Local Response

The biggest challenge of global warming is, indeed, that it is global. Its effects are quite easy to document these days with photographs—but locally, in most places in the United States, you can’t see sea level rising. What you can see, and quite easily, is the price of gasoline and changes in the cost of electricity on your monthly Detroit Edison (or equivalent’s) bill. The New York Times this morning speaks of “A Nation slip[ing] into the Relentless Rising Sea.” I wondered: What nation might that be? I learned that it is the Marshall Islands. I didn’t know that the Marshall Islands are a nation; I also only had a very vague feeling that these islands might be in the Pacific somewhere. The nation (Republic of the Marshall Islands) had an estimated population of 71,191 in 2009. You might call that the local population of a scatter of some 1,156 islands and islets—but, to be sure, the Marshall Islands are definitely part a globe with a total population of 7.3 billion. That huge population, to be sure, is made up of more than 100,000 such local clusters as the Marshall Islands. And in most of those local clusters, global warming is not viscerally, actually, obviously challenging.

The weather may be warmer, summers more hot, winters milder—on some small percentage of total days. There may be more flooding, more fires in seasons; more tornadoes and tsunamis. But these are familiar from way, way back and don’t come with such labels attached as: “Brought to you by Global Warming.” My point is that the hard link between the challenge and the local impact is not such as to energize all but those few clusters of humanity that are actually touched by a real impact—causing them to have to raise seawalls by hand.

At the same time, any effective response to Global Warming must begin at the local level—where mostly the challenge isn’t actually felt. And it must be paid for by the local citizenry resulting in such things as rising electric bills or taxes.

Not surprisingly Congress yesterday passed bills undermining the Administration’s attempts to control power plant carbon emissions just as President Obama is overseas at a Global Warming conference. And Jeb Bush, one of many aiming to replace him, opines that he would have avoided going to Paris because any deal struck there might impose costs on the American public. Thus we need only to read a national paper to know the local response to the global challenge. What this shows me is that there is a genuine limit to human abilities to control global change—whether human-caused on not. To some challenges—especially those with serious local impacts projected to 2050 or beyond—there will never be a local response except those what will be too little too late. Sometimes even modern man must experience what used to be called Fate with the sober realization that que sera, sera.

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