Environment | May 18, 2008 |
Carbon Dated: Wired's Disconnected Ideas on Global Warming
I'm a huge fan of Wired magazine. A subscriber for years, I always know I'm getting ahead of the curve information on technology. That's why I'm so disappointed in the June 2008 issue of Wired. The magazine argues that "only one thing matters: cutting carbon." The article highlights some important issues, but unfortunately, I think they went a little too far in choosing style over substance.
"Attention Environmentalists: Keep your SUV. Forget organics. Go nuclear. Screw the spotted owl." So goes the attention-grabbing cover, with its completely unnecessary day-glo orange background. Inside the article, the arguments are a little more subtle, but the cover title demonstrates an ignorance about the environmental movement and why a carbon-only approach will screw us and the spotted owl.
Some of the right notes are hit: China will be a big renewable energy player; consider buying a used car instead of a new hybrid; adaptation is important too. But even these smart points are drowned out by blocky inserts shouting "KEEP YOUR SUV." Other points were obvious (sprawl is bad). But there also were true misses.
One writer dismisses the serious cons of nuclear waste, weapons proliferation, astronomical cost, and long build times as if renewables - and Chernobyl - didn't exist. Organics are panned for lower-than-average yields and belchier cows, while ignoring everything that's right about organics. And guys, any green worth the label knows that hauling organic produce thousands of miles is a no-no. Some clever math about heating and cooling costs produces the obnoxious conclusion "CRANK THE A/C."
However, the biggest whiff is treating environmental ills as problem spots, rather than the result of humanity's habit of treating the Earth, variously, as a dump, commodity, and grab bag that we can take from without consequence. Alex Steffen of Worldchanging.com pens an adjoining article, "It's Not Just Carbon, Stupid", in which he gets it right. This paragraph lays out the spot-on counter:
"Climate change is not just a discrete issue; it's a symptom of larger problems. Fundamentally, our society as currently designed has no future. We're chewing up the planet so fast, in so many ways, that we could solve the climate problem tomorrow and still find that environmental collapse is imminent. Myopic responses will only hasten its arrival."
Even the layout for the story, a collection of separate topical snippets, reflects the disjointed perception. Wired has a propensity for selecting edgy-over-accurate headlines and working out the details later, but lines like "screw the spotted owl" are just belligerent. It's unfortunate that the tech mag of record turned a much-needed primer on the realities of carbon cutting into a tabloid title.