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A ‘Legitimate’ Dog

Mass Stupidity, Climate Change, and Kicking the Corn Habit.


DAZED AND A-MAIZED: For once, the “What, me worry?” crowd ​— ​forever moved to inaction by iconic nitwit Alfred E. Neuman ​— ​might have it right when it comes to climate change. Maybe the skeptics, doubters, and denialists are correct that nothing can be done. But the good news, after a fashion, is that the feeling is decidedly not mutual. I know it’s frowned upon to anthropomorphize, but to the extent climate change has been exacerbated by willful, calculated, and premeditated human stupidity, climate change has seized upon a partial solution to the species’ plummeting IQ, and is inflicting it as we speak.

Angry Poodle

Before delving into the gory details, it’s worth noting that the S.B. City Council ​— ​when it returns from a three-week vacation ​— ​will soon confront something called “The Climate Action Plan,” outlining how we can ratchet our greenhouse gas emissions back down to 1990 levels. As action plans go, this one doesn’t require us to get out of bed in the morning, let alone off the couch in the afternoon. Amazingly, it turns out, we’ve already achieved all our emission-reduction goals before any of us could feel the pinch of personal sacrifice or the prick of inconvenience. Our valiant success lies in a couple of nifty big-ticket accounting tricks. For starters, we eliminated from our emissions inventory any greenhouse gases generated at the airport. The airport is ultimately controlled by the feds, and hence outside our control. Likewise, we’ve reduced by half the huge volume of air emissions generated on a daily basis by the 12,000 people driving to S.B. from Ventura for work. Traditionally, those emissions had been charged exclusively to Santa Barbara’s account. Now, they will be split 50-50 with Ventura County. Given that we’ve already met our targets for 2030 and 2050, our “Action Plan,” as a call to action, qualifies as a wet noodle, rather than a regulatory crowbar. Even so, the Flat-Earthers will pitch a fit over the few minor encroachments the plan has proposed. For example, the real estate lobby has already mobilized against the home energy and water audits the Action Plan recommended when properties are sold.

When global temperatures have exceeded their monthly temperature averages for 327 months in a row, clearly, we are now in the throes of something above and beyond normal temperature fluctuation. With global weather trends so dire ​— ​the water level of the Mississippi River has dropped too low to accommodate barge traffic, so low, in fact, that salt water from the Gulf has intruded, contaminating municipal water supplies and forcing the feds to make emergency deliveries of bottled water ​— ​I find it more than a little disappointing that Santa Barbara, birthplace of the environmental movement, ​would set its sights so low. Buried in the Climate Action Plan is an amazing report exploring the effect of sea level rise on Santa Barbara, prepared ​— ​utterly free of charge ​— ​by Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. In the world of ocean and coastal issues, Griggs is a certified hotshot, and he knows Santa Barbara. He attended UCSB, and his daughter ​— ​who until recently worked for The Independent ​— ​also lives here. In the past 100 years, California’s sea level rose about 8 inches. In the next 18 years, Griggs projected it would rise by 7 more inches, and by 2050, by 38 inches. By 2100, he said, it could increase by as much as 55. For the next 30 years, he said, storms and floods will get meaner and nastier, biting bigger chunks out of the coast and not spitting them back. After that, he said, sea level rise could begin to seriously encroach on basic infrastructure like the sewage treatment plant. After that, he did not project, but presumably the freeway ​— ​into which we’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars ​— ​would become a six-lane water slide. If councilmembers like Frank Hotchkiss got so apoplectic about Mayor Helene Schneider’s relatively innocuous Light Blue Line proposal six years ago ​— ​a temporary work of agit-prop art demarking Santa Barbara’s new sea level should Greenland’s ice sheets completely melt ​— ​wait ’til he reads the Griggs study. What will that do for real estate values?

If stupid humans have been eager to ignore climate change, the planet has clearly taken note of human stupidity and has responded in kind with rare surgical precision. By that I mean it’s fried this year’s corn crop to such an extent that about 1,000 corn counties have declared states of emergency to date, and U.S. taxpayers are now looking at paying a $5-billion bailout, in the form of federally subsidized crop insurance ​— ​to the corn industry. That’s even more than the $4.5-billion annual subsidy the feds have traditionally thrown at corn growers to make ethanol, by far the stupidest form of alternative energy there is. The relationship between corn and stupidity, we now know, transcends my usual rhetorical excess. According to a study just released by UCLA neurobiologist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, rats that drink water spiked with pure, pharmaceutical-grade fructose get stupid. When given a series of maze tests over time, these become forgetful and flub challenges they previously passed. But when you feed these same rats chow laced with omega-3 fatty acids ​— ​typically found in fish oil ​— ​their cognitive function improves dramatically. The rats in Gomez-Pinilla’s test faring best ingested the fatty acids, but avoided the fructose punch. The rats performing worst drank the fructose Kool-Aid but had no fish oil. The difference in scores between the two groups? Thirty to 40 percent. It’s worth noting that since 1970, the per capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup ​— ​not exactly the same as pure fructose but the closest thing on the market ​— ​has increased 1,000 percent. Normally, I’d say, “You do the math,” but if you’re on the high-corn-syrup diet, you probably can’t. In this context, any damage inflicted to the high-fructose corn syrup industry is cause for celebration.

In the meantime, don’t get agitated by the futilitarians who insist nothing can be done. There may be nothing they can do, but other corrective forces are at work. As the world heats up, stay cool by remembering the immortal words of Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”

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