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Your Navigator Drowns Bangladeshis

12 Oct

I like to read opposing viewpoints on climate change, it ensures that I understand what both sides are thinking about a given issue. Today I read an article entitled “Hot Mess: Why are conservatives so radical about the climate?” by Bill McKibben on The New Republic. I wouldn’t normally mention such an article, but the author made a claim so absurd (and revealing) I felt like sharing.

McKibben makes quite a few errors in his article, but the most egregious occurs when he mentions that CO2 is everybody’s problem. He says:

But here’s the thing: Carbon dioxide mixes easily and freely in the atmosphere. If the climate change you caused followed you around like Pigpen’s cloud, then no problem. But it doesn’t—your Navigator drowns Bangladeshis.

I was speechless after reading that. This is the man that founded 350.org; he is a central leader in the climate change movement. This statement is one of two things. Either he genuinely believes that SUVs are literally causing the deaths of Bangladeshis by increasing the temperature of the planet and increasing the sea level OR this is some sort of morbid eco-joke. If it is a joke it isn’t funny and it doesn’t fit with the context of the statement – he is showing that CO2 doesn’t only affect those who emit it. So it appears he means this statement to be taken as true. Is he right?

No way. There are multiple errors with this. Let me list a few:

1. Sea level rise is due to both thermal expansion and melting glaciers. Thermal expansion is long term so the current rise can’t be due to modern vehicles, and glaciers were melting long before the Navigator was introduced.

2. The actual CO2 emissions from SUVs is small when viewed in the proper context. I started running the numbers but decided it would take too long (I’m cooking dinner tonight). My preliminary numbers suggest just under 1% of total annual emissions of CO2 are from SUVs, but even if it were higher it would still be puny considering more than 95% of CO2 emissions are natural. Also, the implication is that Navigators are bad because of their poor fuel efficiency, but there is no evidence that better fuel efficiency means less total emissions. Better fuel economy may lead to more miles driven, erasing any gains. Additionally, a zero emission electric car may actually cause more emissions than an SUV because it needs electricity to run, probably created by a dirty coal plant.

3. Bangladeshis aren’t drowning, at least not from climate change. The sea level is slightly increasing (as it has been for centuries) but Bangladesh is growing. How? Sediments are carried down the rivers and are dumped when they reach the sea, causing new land to eventually form. Here is a two year old article pointing out this fact.

This attempt at instilling guilt in, or assigning blame to, drivers of SUVs is absurd. Driving a vehicle is NOT drowning Bangladeshis, and to make such claim in seriousness or in jest is tasteless. If we want to address real problems in Bangladesh, let’s focus on what is killing far more people than the bogey-man of climate change: desperate poverty.

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12 Comments

Posted by on October 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

12 responses to “Your Navigator Drowns Bangladeshis

  1. humanpersonjr

    October 12, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Bravo!

    Mr. McKibben tends to emote at times, the better to bludgeon you into submission, my dear.

     
  2. Gator

    October 12, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Hold it right there McKibben. According to the “AsiaOneNews”, my SUV is saving Thailand from 30 years of record breaking cold. I think it’s time for an apology.

     
  3. Donna Laframboise

    October 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Don’t know if you’ve seen this George Monbiot quote from 2006:

    “…every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned.”

     
  4. Sam

    October 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Wow Donna, what a quote. I guess blaming the transportation sector for Bangladesh’s problems is nothing new. This is almost superstition…..if you fly a plane or drive an SUV, somewhere a Bangladeshi drowns.

     
  5. JKrob

    October 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Well..it’s a good thing I have a Suburban & not a Navigator!! I can sleep better tonight knowing it’s the Navigators which are drowning the Third World & not my Suburban.

    Remember, my SUV is not warming the planet, it’s feeding the trees!

     
  6. DennisA

    October 13, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Flooding in the Indus Valley:
    “As torrential rain sweeps in from the Indian Ocean, floods are triggered almost annually. Its floodplain was an early cradle of civilisation 9,000 years ago. Here people first gave up their nomadic ways to farm livestock and cultivate crops.

    The Indus Valley is home to 100 million people, who rely on it completely for drinking water and irrigation. Due to population growth, the people are now living in the alluvial flood plains, which used to be left for the river to meander about.

    Today the river is changing its course and as it flows down, it engulfs many of the populated areas. 500 km of the river bed’s floodzone is called “kacha”. This is the natural flood plain of the river. However the “kacha area” is inhabited by millions of people and those who live there are poor people who do not have the means to live in safe areas.

    People living in these areas do so at their own risk. Property cannot be bought and sold in “kacha”, however successive government have allocated the lands and even electrified the villages that exist in the flood plains.

    Geologist Professor Peter Clift of Aberdeen University, has been precisely dating layers of flood-deposited sand in the Indus floodplain, in order to work out past changes in river flow, with surprising results:

    “During a warm period 6,000 years ago, the Indus was a monster river, more powerful and more prone to flooding than today. Then, 4,000 years ago, as the climate cooled, a large part of it simply dried up. Deserts appeared where mighty torrents once flowed.”

    More about extreme weather in history here: http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/originals/extreme_weather_extreme_claims.html

     
  7. Jack Shroff

    October 13, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Bill McKibben may have been correct – you may have just misinterpreted him, unless he explicitly talked about sea level rising. In this instance, he was probably not talking about sea level rise. He may have been talking about the incessant rainfall that has become worse in the Indian subcontinent over the last few years – I know that this particular region receives very heavy rainfall, even under normal circumstances. But now, even the upstream portions of the Ganges (One of the 2 rivers that forms the Hooghly, which in turn floods Bangladesh), have started receiving unprecedented amounts of rain – this most definitely can be attributed to climate change. Bangladesh is definitely seeing more flooding than it used to be subjected to many years earlier.

     
  8. Jack Shroff

    October 13, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    JKrob – plants breathe in carbon dioxide, only when the sun is shining. They actually breathe out CO2 at night. I advise you not to drive at night, if you are serious about not being responsible for climate change. Even during the day, there is only so much CO2 that plants can take in – you may consider driving during off peak hours, perhaps.

     
  9. Jack Shroff

    October 13, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Sam said :
    “Wow Donna, what a quote. I guess blaming the transportation sector for Bangladesh’s problems is nothing new. This is almost superstition…..if you fly a plane or drive an SUV, somewhere a Bangladeshi drowns.”

    Would you stop, if it were actually real ?

     
  10. Jack Shroff

    October 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Gator said :
    “Hold it right there McKibben. According to the “AsiaOneNews”, my SUV is saving Thailand from 30 years of record breaking cold. I think it’s time for an apology”

    We heard this same argument last year, during the mid-western winter storms. And then during the summer, we saw the hottest year on record again. It would be great if people actually paid attention to the full details of scientific discussion, if they wanted to take part in it. It has become the norm to simply hear the phrase “Global Warming” and expect that every single place on earth should keep getting hotter for the science to be considered valid.

     
  11. len

    October 14, 2010 at 1:25 am

    this is how eco-facists operate. it’s either their way–or they wish you dead.

     
  12. Sam

    October 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    “But now, even the upstream portions of the Ganges (One of the 2 rivers that forms the Hooghly, which in turn floods Bangladesh), have started receiving unprecedented amounts of rain – this most definitely can be attributed to climate change.”

    How can this most definitely be attributed to climate change? Flooding in Bangladesh has occured for centuries, how can you possibly assess that:

    1. This flooding isn’t within natural variation

    and if it isn’t

    2. This change is due to climate change, not any of a myriad of other factors

    Until you answer those questions don’t pretend you know that our cars and planes are causing the problem.

    “Would you stop, if it were actually real?”

    This is a complicated question, and I plan on dedicating an entire article to it.

     

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