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.