Learning that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have increased 50% since the Industrial Revolution and are the highest they have been in approximately the past million years is what convinced me that human-caused climate change is real, has been occuring, is occuring, and will continue to occur. Even if all humans were to disappear overnight, the earth would continue to warm and CO2 levels would continue to increase for about 40 years. But, 37 billion metric tons of CO2 were emitted in 2018 and this is likely to continue or even increase.
The all-or-nothing fallacy, also known as the false dilemma, is a logical fallacy by which people argue that because climate change is happening anyway, we may as well keep doing what we are doing. It encourages defeatism rather than constructive action. It does not help that we are not psychologically equipped to easily comprehend a threat such as climate change, that is so diffused in time and space.
The world’s population growth compounds not unlike the stock market, with more people alive now than ever before. The global population has doubled since 1970, and of all the humans that have ever lived, about 1 in 15 are alive today.
There are 410 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere now, or 0.041% by volume. This is compared with about 280 ppm at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and a projected 500 ppm in 2050 and over 600 ppm in 2100. Besides massive increases in natural disasters and malnutrition, this gives going outside to get a breath of fresh air a whole different meaning. Recent research shows people experience declining cognitive function from high CO2 concentrations, and it is not uncommon to see 1,400 ppm indoors due to lack of air circulation. People actually notice a decline in air quality above 600 ppm. If there are 600 ppm of CO2 outdoors, this is a baseline from which only higher concentrations will be seen indoors in 2100, and 600 ppm isn’t even a liberal estimate (some estimates are as high as 1,000 ppm).
Right now, historic ancient forests in Tasmania are burning on a massive scale. We have seen huge fires in California and elsewhere due to climate change, and all of these events release more CO2 while simultaneously reducing the earth’s ability to absorb CO2. Even the color and acidity of the oceans will never be the same again. As climate change continues, it will get far worse like a growing snowball. For example, arctic glaciers are releasing methane, which is far worse than CO2 by volume, and this will only accelerate.
Research by Irakli Loladze shows that when crops get more CO2, they grow faster but have fewer nutrients and more carbohydrates. This effect is separate from declining vitamins, minerals, and protein content in fruits and vegetables from factory farming focused on higher crop yields. CO2 will destroy the planet’s habitats and habitability for humans and it will even impair our cognitive function and nutrition, but no one seems to care.
Economists demonstrate that the true cost of CO2-emitting products are not included in prices. A gallon of gas may cost $2.30 now, but how much will humans of 2100 wish they could pay to go back in time and stop you from burning it? Even adjusting for inflation, $5.00 is not a stretch, and it likely may be $10, $20, or even more. The United States emits over five billion metric tons of CO2 a year, almost a third of which is from transportation. The impact of frivolous travel is enormous.
A large part of our economy and corporate valuations are built on emitting CO2 that will cost us dearly in the future. Although I write about personal finance and investing in the entire stock market to ensure capital gains over the long term and being well-funded in retirement, it is a fact that these gains come at a cost and are not sustainable in the long term. I have suggested in prior writing that rather than trying to pick corporations that are socially responsible, one should buy the whole market and contribute the differential gains to green causes; that is, the additional income one acquired by buying the whole market instead of a Sisyphean attempt to exclude polluting corporations. For several years now, I’ve railed against Amazon for continually stealing customer gift card balances, including my own $451 gift card balance in 2015. Nonetheless, my 403(b) and IRAs still invest in Amazon; it’s not like I have access to a special mutual fund that includes the entire S&P 500 except Amazon. But, with the gravity and enormity of the climate change conundrum, I find myself questioning this wisdom, particularly as my girlfriend and I are expecting a son in less than a month, who I certainly hope will live to the year 2100 and beyond.
Climate change is paradoxically both all-or-nothing and not at the same time. We have produced technological marvels that we could not even imagine 50 years ago, yet at the same time we cannot rely on humanity to miraculously come up with a technological panacea for climate change at some unknown point in the future. The answer is “all of the above.” We must invent, invest, abate, ameliorate, adapt, tax, legislate, regulate, educate, indemnify, chastise, and more. We asked Americans, “is this trip necessary?” during World War II to support the war effort. We took the drastic steps of making cents out of steel and nickels out of silver to set aside copper and nickel for the war effort. We sold $185 billion of war bonds, equivalent to $2.7 trillion today. Climate change is an even bigger threat than World War II. Why are we not investing $2.7 trillion in climate change solutions? Why are we not chastising tourists and jet-setters for their feckless recklessness? Why are Americans not united in protest against the U.S. military for not only consuming an ungodly amount of oil but orienting itself toward “controlling oil-rich regions and defending the key shipping supply routes that carry half the world’s oil” (Buxton, 2015, para. 4)? Talk about propping up fossil fuels. If Americans really comprehended the gravity of climate change, the protests would be larger and more widespread than the Vietnam War and Tiananmen Square protests combined.
I know I’ve stayed silent on the issue of climate change for far too long and done more than my fair share of polluting too (e.g., visiting family in China in 2017 and Yellowstone National Park in 2018), but I will stay silent no longer. My son’s future depends on it.