This column by John Mott-Smith is republished from the Davis Enterprise.

Two apparently unrelated news articles caught my attention recently. In one, a South Korean ferry sinks with hundreds losing their lives in part because the captain and many of the crew allegedly told passengers to stay put, don’t worry, while the ship sank and they abandoned ship.

The other article was about a new report from the National Climate Assessment, assembled over three years and involving more than 300 scientists. The report basically says that the effects of climate change are beginning to show themselves here and now and lays out on a state-by-state and region-by-region basis just what those effects are. In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls the report “alarmist.”

I may be simple, but aren’t alarms meant to be sounded when there’s an emergency? That’s their purpose. It would have been much better if the South Korean crew had sounded an alarm. It would be better if Congress, or at least many of its members, could hear the alarm currently blaring from the scientific community.

MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS: The student-led movement on more than 300 campuses aiming to persuade colleges to divest their investment portfolios of stocks of companies “whose principal business is coal” scored a major victory on May 6 when the board of trustees of Stanford University voted to do just that.

And, according to their spokesperson, coal is not necessarily the only target. As more renewables come to the fore, Stanford will take a look at its investments in other fossil fuels.

Stanford is home to the Climate and Energy Project whose mission is to research technologies that “permit the development of global energy systems with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Interestingly, the sponsors of the institute include Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Toyota and Bank of America, some pretty heavy-hitters in the world of big business. The board of trustees responded to a petition from the student group Fossil Free Stanford.

WHERE DOES ALL THE RUBBER GO? Estimates are that 200 million tires are sold in the United States every year to replace worn-out tires. This doesn’t count tires for new vehicles. Who knows what the number is worldwide, but that tire wear means there is a whole lot of rubber being left on roads and in landfills.

Following up on technology developed for the military, Michelin is developing an airless tire it calls a “Tweel” (combination of “tire” and “wheel”) that cannot go flat and, it claims, comes close to having the shock-absorbing and driving characteristics of a rubber tire.

These are in use now in some applications, such as riding lawn mowers and some heavy equipment used in construction areas where punctures are very likely. If they’re successful in marketing these for automobiles it could reduce the amount of rubber that is left on roads and in landfills, but it also may increase rolling resistance and thereby reduce gas mileage.

COOL HEADLINE: The headline read, “Studies: Glacier collapse coming.” There’s nothing new about scientists warning that global warming is melting glaciers in the Antarctic. What is new, however, is the subtitle; “Antarctic ice melt called irreversible.” So, though the article (and the study on which it was reporting) indicates that melting is going faster than anyone thought, they were still looking at a 200-year to 800-year horizon.

But that subtitle should not escape notice. Whatever time it takes, the melting has passed the “tipping point.” Scientists indicate the melting is irreversible; it can be slowed but it can’t be stopped.

DON’T WORRY: A friend who regularly sends me articles I might not otherwise see gave me a copy of an April 27 Wall Street Journal article basically arguing that those of us concerned about CO2 in the atmosphere are ignoring history, that each time the human race has confronted a “limit” of one sort or another, we have innovated our way out of it.

His argument is thoughtful, and he juxtaposes the (pessimistic) ecologist who sees 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere as a fixed point, a boundary not to be crossed, whereas the (optimistic) economist sees economic growth as the mother of technological innovation that will lead to less carbon in the atmosphere long before it reaches a dangerous level.

He summarizes by stating that “Ecologists can’t seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.”

There’s a lot more to his argument, but it basically comes down to skepticism that there are resource limits to human activities, and he points to history as evidence.

I wish I could share that optimism. I wish I could believe that we don’t have to worry about resource limits or future disasters because we managed to get this far without the planet falling apart. I wish that tipping points, such as the one referenced above concerning the Antarctic ice shelf, are no more real or threatening than the Easter Bunny. But that seems wishful thinking and irresponsible to future generations.