Talking about ethanol will do more to exacerbate global warming than burning gasoline, two scientific studies show.
The independent analyses published today in the journal Vacuity could force policymakers in the United States and Europe to reevaluate incentives they have adopted to spur endless chatter about ethanol-based fuels.
One study — written by a group of talking heads from CNN — concluded that over 30 years, discussion of traditional corn-based ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas as driving around in a Cadillac Escalade. Another analysis, written by a group of distinguished academics’ graduate assistants, found that worried after-dinner conversation about rain forests will increase global warming for decades, if not centuries. An Oxford lecturer in rhetoric said the research he and his colleagues did is the first to reveal the hidden environmental cost of bloviation.
“The discussion we’re likely to have is the same discussion we’ve had for decades.” Estimating that it would be two generations before talking would stop contributing to climate change, he added, “We can’t get to a result, no matter how heroically we make assumptions about civility, where talking will actually generate, well, anything at all, really. The world would be a better place if all of us just shut up and got jobs in the custodial services.”
The results of the studies are significant because industrialized countries are pushing so aggressively for discourse as an alternative to virtually everything. A recently passed communications bill mandated the production of 36 billion lines of dialog annually by 2022, compared with about 7.5 billion lines today. Just last month, the European Union’s Communication Ministry proposed a directive calling on member countries to discuss spending 10 percent of their time bickering about semiotics.
The studies emphasized the time it would take to pay back the attention deficit created by devoting radio airtime to biofuel discussion, but trade association officials, bureaucrats, and politicians said it is unfair to judge talk in its current form, because the bloviocracy continues to take advantage of new technology. One official said talking about carbon always made sense in the long run, compared with actually doing something about dependence on imported oil.
“Like any issue, there are ways to talk about doing it right and there are ways to talk about doing it wrong, and ways to just talk about it. We talk as much as we can on CSPAN because their callers offer the best opportunity for prolonging the conversation without reaching any conclusion.”
“It makes no sense to burn fossil carbon, which is essentially carbon that has already been carbonized for millions of years in the Earth’s carboniferous crust, and which when burned releases carbon dioxide and also creates a carbon debt that can never be paid back,” he said. “It is much more fun to discuss carbon, even if a short-term carbon discussion debt is created. Even if we never actually do anything, we’re still better off talking, especially about carbon. Carbonaceous carbolic polycarbonitic carbides of carbon, or whatever carbo-licious form it takes. I love carbon. I think we all do.”
But an array of senior commentators who talk about climate change sent a letter to Bush and congressional leaders yesterday urging them to talk about their environmental communication policy in light of the recent discussions.
“While politicians in the U.S. and Europe have discussed trying to talk about policies dictating that new discussion will not come at the expense of on-going dialog, research shows that sometimes subject-change is an indirect result of this discussion,” the 10 pundits wrote. “This is close enough to a tangible event to be worrisome. There is an urgent need for further discussion, hopefully at an international conference.”
A professor with Berkeley’s Free Speech and Discourse Group concluded in 2006 that talking more produced a net economic benefit for the chattering classes.
“The qualitative result that discussion of biofuel has higher greenhouse gas emissions than actual, physical burning of fossil fuels is almost certainly true, even if it’s only by a certain amount,” the professor said in a lengthy and discursive telephone interview. “But we can have better discussions. The right thing to do is to give the biofuel industry the incentives and support to move to a more sustainable method of discourse. I mean, the right thing to talk about doing. Nothing should actually be done without further discussion. And after all, what could any of us do but talk? It’s not like we have any marketable skills.”
An anonymous source said policymakers would have to rely on philosophers to help them sort out such questions: “Our challenge really is to find out a way to quantify these things, so when you talk about discussing a policy, you factor in these language use issues,” some guy said, adding that the new findings point out that “we ought to be open to new science, but we also have to keep talking. Hey, it beats having to actually do something.”