Magic is powerful. It does not influence physics, but it has a huge impact on society. Magic is a factor in the current struggle between polluters and environmentalists in the climate change debate over climate change policies and also how individuals participate in conservation efforts.
We know that companies including Exxon have been aware of climate change for decades and have worked hard to continue their profitable, polluting ways.
One of the techniques they use to influence the public is analogous to how magicians use sleight of hand to trick their audiences. Polluters hire authority figures to engage in the climate change debate by challenging the accuracy of various computer models of climate change. By picking at flaws (real or imagined) in the models and proposing conspiracy theories they use up much of the public’s attention on the debate, which crowds out discussions of policies, priorities, and other types of pollution.
Greenhouse gasses can be treated as proxies for pollution in general, since processes that generate greenhouse gasses like CO2 usually create additional pollutants like lead, mercury, airborne particulates, or water contaminants.
Polluters Continue Polluting
While the public is distracted by the debate over climate models, the polluters continue their ways with less interference, even in other unrelated areas. A large block of the public that might oppose coal power due to the cancers it causes is now silent because they feel that coal is wrongly blamed for climate change.
Andrew Hoffman makes some astute observations in his book How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate. Climate science is mostly of interest to people who are dismissive about climate change (15% of Americans). It’s best to avoid discussions about climate science since that only riles them up and adds to the distraction. It is more productive to focus discussions in America on solutions that have already shown some success like wind and solar power. Among people who are alarmed about climate change, it can be good to widen the discussion by brainstorming radical long-shot ideas that have a tiny chance to turn into a home run.
Returning to the theme of magic, Arthur C. Clarke observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The electric utility companies, construction industry, and appliance makers have hidden the workings of our electrical system to the point that it is invisible for most users. It is essentially magic that keeps refrigerators cold and rooms well lit and comfortable. It is not necessary to think about mining coal and processing it and getting electricity into the home and running motors and pumps. They even hide the amount of electricity used by having automatic payments so the bill is reduced to a single number on a bank statement that appears once a month. When a person takes action to conserve electricity, it can be difficult to see the result a month later when the total becomes visible but some other factor may counteract the conservation.
On the bright side, some electric utilities have installed smart meters for their customers. In those cases, the customer can see online data that shows hourly use and can help find problems, for example high use in the middle of the night by “vampires”. Also, there are inexpensive power meters than can be used to find the power use of anything that plugs into an outlet.
Avoid the Climate Change Debate
The polluters will continue to try to trick us into using lots of their dirty products. But there are effective actions we can take to clean things up:
- Avoid the climate change debate. Discussions on climate science are a distraction.
- Engage in discussions about solutions like wind and solar energy.
- Use data from smart meters and outlet power meters to understand your electricity use, and use electricity thoughtfully.