Politicians and the public don’t seem to understand the severity of the climate crisis. Scientists recently noted that human-emitted greenhouse gases are causing the ocean to warm at the same rate as if we continuously dropped five nuclear bombs on the oceans per second (Cheng et al., 2020; press release with atom bomb comparison). Just a few months ago, we had this potential disaster sitting right off our shores:
Hurricanes are forming in more unusual places and rapidly intensifying because of human greenhouse gas emissions, of which carbon dioxide is central, responsible for about half of all warming. This is just one of many deleterious effects… sea level rise, droughts and flooding, fires, and extreme heat and cold snaps are among the other effects. The CO2 concentration has reached 413 parts-per-million in earth’s atmosphere, which is the highest in human history, and there are many further ramifications that are already guaranteed (“baked in”) that we will see in our lifetimes.
Our farmers are getting hit hard, and more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in all of human history have occurred within the past several decades. A Great Acceleration of human development has taken hold since 1950, and it is going to end very badly unless we make radical changes now.
Listening to the Democratic debate last night, I heard Joe Biden say we need “green highways” and to build up roads and buildings in places affected by sea level rise. First off, there are no “green” highways; that’s like saying there is “green” coal or “green” smokestacks. Secondly, Biden may have been referring to the fact that many roads in the Florida Keys will be underwater within the next 20 years, but suggesting we throw federal funds at this is like trying to turn the tide of an ocean. It’s foolish, ridiculous, expensive, and won’t work. We also heard Amy Klobuchar make the absurd recommendation that oil derived from fracking should be embraced as a bridge fuel, which was a ridiculous recommendation that a fracking profiteer also made to failed Congressional candidate Paul Perry regarding his anti-fracking stance and the need for money from the fracking industry to fund his campaign for Congress.
Our government is bought and paid for. We are not seeing real leadership, which requires highly unpopular but necessary positions on items such as travel, tourism, the economy, and moral hazards. In addition, we must end subsidies for fossil fuels, end American militarism which emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden and Denmark combined, combat American materialism and throwaway culture, and be much harder on the rich in terms of taxes and disincentives, as the earth’s wealthiest 10% cause 50% of human greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the poorest 50% cause only 10% of emissions. When Republicans vent their anger about welfare going to the supposedly undeserving poor, they should really be directing their anger at the wealthy who are receiving huge, grotesque amounts of welfare—which includes real tax breaks and privilege as well as imputed benefits from not having to pay for all the damage they are causing.
We often hear that flying accounts for only 2% of CO2 emissions. In fact, the real figure is about triple, around 6%. Airplanes spew greenhouse gases seven miles about the ground, which is almost twice as impactful as doing this at ground level. Plus, the airplanes and airports themselves require tons of aluminum, plastic, concrete, and steel, all of which cause greenhouse gas emissions.
Portland cement, the key ingredient in concrete, is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. The Wekiva Parkway, a new 25-mile toll road being constructed to the north of Apopka and then turning east toward Sanford, crosses through sensitive wetlands and required careful planning and unprecedented proportions of bridges and elevated sections made of… you guessed it, concrete. Even a “green” highway that allows water and wildlife to cross under it is a climate disaster. At least an asphalt road on packed dirt doesn’t require enormous concrete bridges.
Peak travel must end. Everyone needs to travel much less. This doesn’t mean that people can’t travel at all. This doesn’t mean we need an authoritarian government to crack down on travel. Just pricing travel appropriately would make a huge difference. Gasoline at $2–$3 a gallon makes no sense. People in the future will wish they could go back in time and pay $2 or $3 per gallon to stop us from using it. Tourism and our economy are built on kicking the can down the road. We aren’t paying the true costs now, but the reckoning is coming and has already begun to manifest.
Taxation of travel to incorporate its true costs can be done progressively. We can charge the rich more for gas, more for flying, and more for other extravagances while allowing the working class to pay much less. The wealthiest Americans are already robber barons receiving massive subsidies and welfare, so this should not be contentious. We figured out a scheme for rationing gas in the 1970s oil crises, so I’m sure we can figure this out.
When the prime minister of the Bahamas was asked what the world can do to help the islands ravaged by Hurricane Dorian, he cited tourism. He said:
Please come and visit one or more of the 14 other major islands in the Bahamas not affected by Hurricane Dorian, including Nassau on the island of New Providence. The revenue from tourists visiting The Bahamas will play a vital role in reconstructing and rebuilding the affected areas.
The paradox is that tourism helps in the short term but is disastrous in the long term. Many tourists arrive in the Bahamas via cruise ships, which are a climate disaster, emitting 3–4 times as much CO2 per mile when compared with flying. They use inexpensive, dirty fuel putting out toxic emissions that ravage the atmosphere. As with Dorian, future hurricanes will ironically be intensified by the very tourists who are providing tax revenue to the Bahamas in order to rebuild the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama.
When people come to Daytona Beach for NASCAR, for Bike Week, or for our beautiful beaches, often from thousands of miles away, we aren’t paying for the climate damage. When NASCAR upgrades their stadium, not only do they receive tremendous tax breaks but they aren’t paying for the climate emissions from concrete, asphalt, and steel, or the leaded gas the race cars use by environmental waiver. When Sam’s Club decides to move from one part of Daytona Beach to another and building a completely new concrete building with a huge asphalt parking lot, they aren’t paying for the climate damage as compared with renovating the old building that now sits vacant on Beville Road. We shop at the new Sam’s Club… it’s nice, but undeniably extravagant.
When Disney World induces tourists to fly in from California or even other countries thousands of miles further away, they aren’t paying for it. When people fly into Orlando for the many academic, military, and industry conferences that go on here, we aren’t paying for the climate damage.
The I-4 Ultimate project is psychotic. The massive expansion to the Orlando airport is cruel and insane. As humans, are we just stupid? The ultimate irony is when I-4 Ultimate had to brace for Hurricanes Irma and Dorian. Our very actions are making hurricanes worse, and then we get into this crazy cycle where we brace for hurricanes by filling up gas cans for generators, and then end up having to rebuild stronger buildings that are elevated with more rebar and concrete to be more sturdy, emitting more greenhouse gases that make future hurricanes even worse. It’s madness.
A Path Forward
False equivalence is a logical fallacy that comes up time and time again when it comes to the climate crisis. It’s bad to drive a car, so anyone with a car shouldn’t be allowed to call out Michael Bloomberg for having a private jet, a helicopter, and 11 mansions. In truth, we can rank particular actions on a scale from good to bad, or from neutral to terrible. One does not have to be a climate saint in order to point out that we are on the wrong track. Much human suffering is already occurring from the climate crisis, and what’s coming in the future will be worse. Our actions now will answer the question: How bad do you want it to be? We can either keep going with the tremendously disastrous status quo, or we can take action to prevent death and suffering and to make the future better for the poor, minorities, the working class, and disadvantaged individuals in Florida and all over the United States and planet earth.