But can facts change opinions? Not much lately -- on either "side" of the what-to-do-about-climate-change debate.
I'm actually less concerned about the flat-earth Rushbots who still try to claim the climate isn't changing. I'm more concerned about the progressive orthodoxy that's building thick, inflexible guardrails around potential solutions to climate change. I'm a fan of the use-it-if-it-works approach to problem solving. But sadly, too many of the people who support the science that predicts global warming also are irrationally fearful of two technologies that could do very much to help humanity survive climate change.
Building many, many more nuclear power plants and using them to fuel a widespread adoption of electric cars would replace a vast amount of demand for coal, natural gas and petroleum and by so doing, take a huge amount of carbon emissions out of the equation. That in turn could do a lot to keep the global warming within tolerable levels; maybe even enough. Yet it appears that the momentum for nuclear power is going the wrong way, thanks to technophobe over-reactions to the Fukishima mess in Japan. And people seem to be glad that Germany and other places are shutting down nuclear plants.
However, nuclear power really is the only tool available that can quickly replace coal and natural gas as major energy sources. Wind and solar are hopeful technologies worth pursuing long-term, but they are not robust enough yet to count upon for large-scale impact.
Beyond fueling electric cars and replacing coal plants, nuclear power plants may be needed to deal with rising levels of drought and water supply disruption. If needed, nuclear plants have the juice to carry out large-scale desalination of ocean water to replace lost freshwater sources. Yes, we may need to take some water from the oceans to recharge depleted underground aquifers. It might even be helpful to do this, because global warming is turning freshwater at the polar ice caps into salt water that eventually will swamp island nations and damage many coastal areas.
Yes, there are concerns and controversies about what to do with nuclear waste, and how to prevent power plants from turning into bomb factories. But these concerns only add urgency to developing even more advanced nuclear power technology -- specifically fusion power. As odd as it may sound, the Moon may hold the key to saving the Earth. Scientists have already demonstrated that the Moon contains vast quantities of an element rarely found on Earth -- Helium 3. This substance is very important for developing nuclear fusion reactors, and the sooner we can shift from fission power to fusion power the better off the world will be. Fusion power is vastly more environmentally friendly that fission. If you want a reason why America should expand its investment in space tech, this is it. Humanity wins if we can get figure out how to get Helium 3 from the moon to Earth. And if America fails to do this, some other country will, and they will become the progenitor of a great future empire that finally begins to move humanity toward the stars.
Flora and fauna go extinct in times of climate change because they cannot migrate or evolve fast enough to cope with major environmental shifts. Well, science can help with that -- if we can learn to ignore the fear-mongers.
Genetic modification can vastly accelerate the pace of climate-change adjustment. Unlike the plants and creatures of the Ice Age, we can rapidly develop and deploy drought-tolerant, temperature-hardy crops for those places facing new extremes of heat and cold. And we can do so in a few dozen years rather than the thousands of years a "natural" evolutionary process would require.
In theory, we also could breed improved versions of livestock -- be it cows, goats, tuna or salmon -- that could better tolerate changing climate patterns and produce valuable protein in more efficient, Earth-friendly ways. Hey, I'm personally a vegetarian but I have no problem with animal husbandry as one arrow in a full quiver of problem-solving options.
The good news is that we can rapidly share whatever new GMO crops that scientists develop thanks to a robust and rapid global transport system that can move better-tech seeds to where they are most needed. We also have satellite-guided water management for efficient agriculture; chemistry for better, safer fertilizers; plus computerization and high-tech communication tools to share new learnings at the speed of light. And who knows? Through genetic modification, maybe someone will develop a supertree that sucks up carbon dioxide and spits out oxygen much faster than regular trees.
So save our planet! Plant some supertrees! Split some atoms! Or better yet, fuse them!