Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Weather Is Mild. We're All Doomed.

Back in 1986, at the height of Ronald Reagan's crazy nuclear cowboy foreign policy against the totally reasonable and pacifist Soviet Union, I was living in a studio apartment in La Jolla, in the path of the flightline at Miramar Naval Air Station. For years, the popular culture had been infused with the terror of nuclear war. Any day now, that crazy Reagan was going to press The Button and kill us all.

One night around 2AM, a pair of F-14s took off from Miramar and turned on their afterburners right over my apartment. The whole place shook and I awoke with a start. My very first thought, and I remember it like it was last night, was that the missiles were in the air and the Navy was getting their jets out of town as fast as they could.

We were all doomed. We were going to be incinerated in sheets of atomic fire in a matter of minutes.

It's been a very mild winter so far here in San Diego. The highs have been in the low 70s and the nights have been cool, but not cold. After a decade or so marinating in the fear of Global Warming Climate Change, I can't help it. Every time the weather is unexpectedly warm or cold or wet or dry, my subconscious connects the event with Global Warming Climate Change.

Once again, we're all doomed. The seas will rise, the hurricanes will come and the nation's cornfields in Nebraska will bake until they look like the surface of Mars.

This happened. No, really, it did! Well, the part about chicks with huge hair and everyone wearing monstrous glasses. That happened. So, in a way, all the scaremongering was validated.


tim eisele said...

You know, now that you mention it, there is an interesting contrast here:

Threat 1: That the Soviets would launch an nuclear attack. If it happened, it would cause large economic and social disruptions. Response: Massive military expenditures, supported at various times by both political parties. Makes the military one of the primary components of our economy and a huge source of federal debt.

Threat 2: That the climate will change in such a way as to cause drought, flooding, and other shifts. If this happens, it would cause large social and economic disruptions.
Response: A lot of arguing, but nothing that I would call particularly substantive. One party holding out for doing nothing, and the other party kind of giving it lip service but not actually pushing all that hard for anything to be done.

Why does the one threat get so much more vigorous of a response than the other? Is it that a Russian crazy enough to push the button was a much more straightforward and believable threat than a cascade of side-effects from an unplanned change in atmosphere composition?

Doo Doo Econ said...

Threat difference is the fact many of us remember science 101. 1450 to 1850 was the little ice age and caused starvation, disease and war. Greenland froze and towns were abandoned, 1816 was the year without a summer. 1870 weather monitoring stations are created around North America as the climate recovers. 1986 the little ice age is removed from text books and replaced with "global warming."

tim eisele said...

Doo Doo Econ: See, that's my point - your immediate response is to come back with "we don't know enough to know for sure it is a problem, so let's just forget about it."

But at a similar point in the Cold War (say around 1948 or so, when the "containment" policy was being put into place), it would have been just as easy to claim "we don't know if the Soviets are going to be a threat or not, so let's just forget about them." After all, at the time they didn't have nukes yet; they didn't have the wherewithal to even strike conventionally at any significant US territory; they'd lost 27 million people in WWII; their Navy and Air Force that they would have needed to use to strike us directly were vastly inferior to ours; and it wasn't clear that they were going to be able to do much to any country that was very far beyond their borders.

Now, as it developed, the Soviets *were* a threat, and the Cold War *was* probably the best approach to dealing with them, but at the time the Cold War got started, we couldn't prove that. So in 1948, would you have advocated just ignoring them until the threat became more obvious, while ridiculing everyone who thought that maybe there was a possibility that they could be a danger?

K T Cat said...

There's no doubt that defense contractors overplayed the Soviet threat in order to get more business. That's the way politics works. There's also no question but that climate scientists are in Nirvana right now, overplaying the scaremongering in the hopes of keeping the money spigots open. Dittos for statists who see everything as an opportunity to grab more power for the government.

My point was that the pervasive culture of the time causes even skeptics to react to events that are quite innocent.