I’m watching an old black and white movie on television, “Cow Country,” made in 1953. It’s about times economic change in the 19th century West, and cattlemen having a rough time adjusting.
Their situation was like oil companies of the 21st Century saying wind and solar will not work – because it’s easier and more profitable to keep doing what they’re doing than figure out how to do something new.
“I built this town,” a rancher told the owner of a new business, who had bridled at the idea of being told to shut down until the cattle business was “straightened out.”
At the base of the financial ladder was the town’s banker. He held mortgages on all the surrounding ranches , and on the store that supplied the ranchers, who also owed money to the store. The banker planned to foreclose on the store, which would cut the ranchers’ supply line, then foreclose on the cattle producers.
I don’t remember whether he planned to sell all the land to the railroad or start a newer town.
The story does point out an eternal truth: The bottom line is the bottom line. Business is not even in business to sell products or services. Were that the purpose, we would measure growth by numbers of widgets actually sold, rather than by profits, gross sales or activity on the stock exchange.
I’ve said before but I think it bears repeating, the United States needs innovation and invention. That’s what gave us cars, trucks, airplanes, the iPhone, and the promise of space travel. It is what will clean our air and water, and keep our televisions running without burning down the house.
Our next innovation, other than the iPhone 6, should be to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet, as one presidential candidate said Sunday he specifically was not planning to do. I recall the CEO of British Petroleum saying that was not his job, either, a few months before the Deep Water Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, and cost savings in the well-drilling process turned into millions of barrels of crude oil pouring onto the Gulf and along the shores from Louisiana to Florida.rtc
The oceans have risen an average of about eight inches in the past century. It doesn’t seem like much, until one looks at pictures of glaciers that have turned to water and contributed part of that rise. And the more land that is exposed, the faster the ice will melt.
I learned that as a youngster chopping ice at the edge of a dirt driveway so the melting water would run off. The faster the ice melted, the more and faster dirt-laden water ran over the ice and the faster the formerly frozen stuff disappeared.
But most of us live more than eight inches above sea level. (I live at about 500 feet above current sea level, and I’m not even on a hill.)
The planet’s surface temperature has risen about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the same period. That also will help the ice melt and the seas swell. Scientists predict the temperature increase will top two degrees by 2100. My youngest grandchild is 9; she likely will be here then.
The same scientists, by the way, say if we make it to two degrees, we will have a tough time controlling the rise. In fact, the average temperature of the planet has risen twice as fast from 1950–2000 than it did from 1900–1950. If that pattern holds, say the people who make it their business to know such things, it’s possible average temperature could be more than three degrees, and as high as seven.
That’s average temperature, so some places will be warmer and others not so much. Florida, for instance, will be complaining of the financial loss when “snowbirds” – New Englanders who habitually follow the birds south for the winter – can stay home to work on their December tan.
We already are seeing those effects, with more forest fires, droughts, and West Nile virus – the later owed, in part, to mosquito populations allowed to flourish in a climate with shorter, warmer winters.
I suspect the reason coal and oil companies oppose wind and solar is they have not yet figured out how to make as much money as fast as they can polluting our grandkids’ air. Electricity plants boast of converting to “cleaner” natural gas, but the real impetus is the currently much lower cost of natural gas.
The cool part (pun intended) is, unless we import Asian laborers the way we did to build the railroads, American workers will do the installing and maintaining of the new wind- and solar-power generators.
Or we can keep doing what we’re doing, subsidizing coal while its producers find more efficient ways to increase production with reduced workforce, then sell the product to growing Asian economies because U.S. demand is not keeping up with current supply.
No one is saying humans are at the root of all the climate changes, but numbers, as any accountant will attest, do not lie. Since we humans began burning carbon-based dead stuff to power transportation, nighttime illumination and indoor climate control, air and water qualities have dropped and temperatures have, in geologic terms, skyrocketed.
If the polls are correct, whoever is elected in November will not have much of a mandate. It will be up to the rest of us to encourage our politicians to do what needs to be done. And they have pretty well proven they won’t do it without lots of encouragement in the months and years before the next election.
Photo by Meredith Rendall Photography
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