Air conditioning and catalytic converters

Or how to be an ostrich and keep your head in the sand.

I used to hope that the time would (eventually) come when so many changes in our environment and climate would finally force people to acknowledge that climate change is real and happening now.

Evidently record breaking temperatures around the world, more rain deluges and flooding while other areas experience drought and water shortages, more intense wildfires, accelerating rises in carbon dioxide and methane, and rapidly melting permafrost and glaciers still aren’t enough to force people to see what is happening all around us.

One of my most memorable early life experiences was visiting Los Angeles during a summer family vacation (circa 1965). When we first arrived we saw vast clouds of smog hiding the surrounding mountains from view, our eyes burned and we coughed in the dirty air. I wondered why anyone would put up with such a dirty environment, even though millions of people were doing so.

I had similar experiences when I moved to Indianapolis in 1971 and was enveloped in  clouds of smog as I rode my bicycle to work and around the city. Smog so thick that at times I worried my bicycle and I wouldn’t be seen in traffic.

All of this was before the widespread use of catalytic converters, which began around 1975. People were somewhat separated from the smog as they traveled enclosed in their cars. Although we all appreciate the clearer air now from catalytic converters, the downside is people could easily ignore the (invisible) carbon dioxide they continue to pump into the air from their car’s exhaust.

Imagine what might have happened if catalytic converters had not been invented?

I’d like to think we all might have paid more attention to the damage from fossil fuels as smog worsened. Change happens when something affects us personally, and smog was becoming a universal problem. But after decades of hoping and working for a lot of things to change (addressing environmental destruction, racism, militarism, materialism to name a few), I’m not sure even expanding, denser clouds of toxic air would have made a difference.

Similarly, the widespread use of air conditioners in developed countries makes it easy to ignore rising air temperatures. So many people dwell in homes with air conditioning, travel to work and everywhere else in air conditioned cars, and end up at work or other buildings with air conditioning so cold you shiver. They only feel the heat when moving between air conditioned environments.

We know increased use of air conditioning stresses our fragile energy infrastructure. We will see an increasing number and duration of power brown outs and black outs.

There won’t be anywhere to hide from the heat then.

Imagine life without air conditioning. Spend a day with the air conditioning turned off this summer. Experience what will soon be the new normal.

So we end up hiding from ourselves all the carbon dioxide being dumped into our air, while trying to ignore the rising air and water temperatures resulting from that carbon dioxide, by using air conditioning wherever we are. A vicious cycle of hiding from the environmental truth.

Climate scientist Guy McPherson summarizes abrupt anthropogenic climate change in the video below (posted 11/21/2017).  What McPherson has been saying for years has made him a target for climate deniers. He is often criticized not for his science, but because what he says would upend the status quo if people took him seriously. I believe he is correct when he says dramatic increases in air and water temperatures will occur within a matter of months, not years. That is already happening.

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