Food for Thought

by Eric Hamilton

In my last column, I discussed the concept of innovation—particularly how innovation relates to the use of oil and automobiles. And inevitably, this leads to a discussion of global warming.
To all of my readers who have suddenly begun to grind their teeth, I would advise them to take a few deep breaths—maybe squeeze a rubber ball to reduce aggression.
The issue of climate change is not something to be angry about. It is not something that should divide the country. It is not a cultural or religious issue—and yet, many people view the idea that global warming is real as an attack on ‘good values’.
I am not sure why. I suppose that some people believe that God would not allow global warming to happen, and so they conclude that to believe in global warming is to be an atheist. And to all such people I would say: ‘Do you believe in forest fires? If you set a fire in the woods on a dry, windy summer day and the whole woods burns down, do you believe that the fact that the woods was allowed to burn proves that there is no God?’
I might also ask, ‘Do you believe that you can drive from New London to Center in the left lane of Highway 19 without having a head-on collision, because God will automatically prevent any such collision from happening?’
Clearly, God does not prevent forest fires or traffic fatalities. And when we belch CO2 into the atmosphere, I think that we’re being as reckless as a person driving from New London to Center in the left lane. Global warming is just the head-on collision that God is allowing us to inflict upon ourselves. There is nothing heretical about acknowledging that it exists. It is not a religious issue at all. And yet many religious conservatives regard climate change-denial as a matter of faith.
I realize that I have written about this before—and the fact of climate change is as true now as it was the last time that I visited the topic. In fact, to deny climate change—to deny that there are now summer shipping-lanes in the arctic where once there was only ice—seems rather like denying that the sky is blue. What’s more, the problem of climate change could be as much of an opportunity as it is a problem.
Yes, fueling our economy with something other than oil will be a challenge—but will that challenge result in ‘Economic Armageddon?’
Every time a technology dies, a new technology has to be invented to replace it, and somebody always makes money on that new invention. Smart-phone cameras replaced the Polaroid; DVD’s replaced VHS. Planes that run on ethanol (not to mention high-speed trains) can replace petroleum-fueled jets. Solar and wind-farms can replace coal-fired power-houses. Hydroelectric plants that harness the tides can be built along the coasts. More nuclear power-plants can be built. In the words of the late great John McCain: ‘Solar, wind, nuclear, tide.’ He always sounded like his soul had left his body when he chanted this slogan, but he was right!
New car-battery technology needs to be invented—a wonderful opportunity for somebody to make a fortune. Maybe, someday, there will be ‘battery stations’ rather than gas stations along the highway; you park your electric car there, drop off your dying battery and pick up a freshly charged battery before heading on your merry way.
Even one of the silliest ideas associated with the climate change debate—the idea of ‘killer cattle-farts’—doesn’t have to be completely silly. Google ‘cow-manure converted to electricity’ if you don’t believe me. This is not just some ‘BS idea’ (pardon my French)! Stanford University is actually looking at ways to convert the greenhouse gas, methane, found in cattle manure, to energy! Someday, feed-lots and particularly dairies may double as power-plants, selling electricity to the utility companies even as they ship milk and beef to market.
This is why I say that global warming should NOT be a flash-point in the ‘culture war’. It is a fact about which liberals and conservatives ought to agree. It is an opportunity for businesses to innovate and make money. And most of all, it is a challenge like the challenges presented by WWII and the Cold War—which led to Americans splitting the atom and leaving footprints on the moon.