Take Two Aspirin And Call Me In The Morning

Ever since Al Gore (for whom I voted three times for national office) appropriated the line ‘The Planet Has a Fever’ the climate debate has often used medical metaphor as a way of either illustrating or misleading.

In articles, blog posts and especially in comments we see the argument that if a doctor said you had cancer you would listen to the doctor instead of your neighbor with a different opinion. For variety they sometimes use heart disease instead.

But ya know something? The planet doesn’t have a fever. It’s a pile of rock with some water, gases and us perched on the surface. It doesn’t care what temperature it is and there is no optimum for it. As for us, we have labeled the periods in the past with different climates, and the ones we have chosen to label Optimum for us have been as warm or warmer than the present.

And global warming? It’s real and it’s a problem. But it’s not cancer and it’s not heart disease. If we are going to insist on a medical metaphor to use in this debate, let’s use the right one.

Global warming doesn’t threaten civilization. It does threaten rapid development of human potential, economic progress at the margins and the continued progress that has characterized the past two centuries. The solution to global warming is slow, expensive and involves discipline.

In other words, global warming is best compared to a chronic condition that requires monitoring so as not to get worse. It is like obesity.  If we don’t address it, global warming will cause a significant deterioration in the quality of life for many humans. If we consume empty calories we will live with the consequences for a long time. Regardless of how we arrived here (and it is pointless to argue whether our condition was predestined or chosen) the course of action we must take is fairly clear.

And just as someone who is obese has a greater challenge than an alcoholic or drug addict (who stops taking the substance completely, while the obese person must still let the tiger out of the cage and eat three times a day), we are in the situation where we must address the problem while knowing that our energy consumption will undoubtedly increase for the first three quarters of this century, before population and development begin to stabilize.

The planet does not have a fever. The patient does not have cancer. There is no correct surgery or silver bullet medication that will solve our problem. We need to change our diet–the portfolio of fuels that power our world–and learn the meaning of portion control.

Our problem is less lethal than climate activists portray–but its solution is more complex than any of us would like.

One response to “Take Two Aspirin And Call Me In The Morning

  1. Obesity is an excellent parallel to modern consumption of energy. Fossil fuels are as hard to give up as high calorie goodies, not least because we have a need for both food and energy. Those things don’t just serve our basic functions but they provide pleasure and comfort too.

    Just as we would all switch to an exact low calorie version of a high calorie treat we would swap fossil fuels for a genuine like for like low CO2 energy source. However, like low calorie foods, low CO2 alternatives don’t hit the spot or it turns out they’re just as dangerous but in a different way. Of course there are alternatives out there but the public knows that they’re not the same, not as good.

    We’re all hoping for a magic pill. One that will let us eat as much as we want or use as much energy but until that pill arrives there is only one solution – dieting. Unfortunately the energy diet is no more palatable than the food diets.

    So what has to happen?

    1) Live with it and deal with the consequences if we can.
    2) Keep hoping for that magic pill.
    3) Effect a huge change in society that teaches people to seek something other than gratification as a life goal. Hmmm, tricky.

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