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.