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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Re-arranging priorities: The real global threat is climate change

Climate change has gotten some much needed attention recently because of its prominent place on the agenda at this week's G8 summit taking place in Germany. George W Bush was even moved to make a proposal on the subject, half-hearted as it is (see the New York Times story Bush Climate Plan: Amid Nays, Some Maybes).

Lost in most of the mainstream US news coverage is the dire urgency for us to act on this problem. The media, handmaidens to the political power-brokers who are in turn servants to the corporate elite, would much rather we all believe global terrorism is the greatest threat to our well-being and security. There was even a curiously timed FBI disclosure last week of an alleged plot to bomb JFK airport in New York (see Time magazine's The JFK Plot: Overstating the Case?).

Not to downplay terrorism, but whereas the media pundits and politicians like to let their imaginations run wild with the possible devastation caused by such an attack, scientists are projecting actual disasters on a grander scale due to unchecked carbon emissions that are pushing the Earth toward a tipping point. Ironically, it's the worst of the terrorism-based fear-mongerers who recommend caution on this issue and dismiss environmentalists as alarmists. They want to see evidence of the destruction before they'll act, and now we're finding we've reached a point where it's almost too late to do so.

My friend Zephyr at the Climate of Our Future blog (a great resource for information on global climate change) pointed me to the following story, which details how far down the wrong road we've already gone:

Can climate change get worse? It has
Liz Minchin, environment reporter

The world is now on track to experience more catastrophic damages from climate change than in the worst-case scenario forecast by international experts, scientists have warned.

The research, published in a prestigious US science journal, shows that between 2000 and 2004 the rate of increase in global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was three times greater than in the 1990s. ...

The climbing emissions mean that average global temperatures are now on track to rise by more than four degrees this century - enough to thaw vast areas of arctic permafrost and leave about 3 billion people suffering from water shortages ...

The jump in emissions since 2000 has been driven by increasing populations, growing global wealth, and greater than expected use of fossil fuels.

The paper found that none of the world's major rich or developing regions are "decarbonising" their energy supplies, by reducing demand or switching to less polluting energy, which spells trouble for international efforts to curb global greenhouse emissions.

Read the full article
You may have read the recent comments by the head of NASA that downplayed the threat posed by climate change (if not, see NPR's story NASA Chief Questions Need to Address Global Warming). Another voice at NASA, Physicist James Hansen who heads their Institute for Space Studies, sees things a little differently. Here's another scary article from the Environment News Service:

Earth's Climate Approaches Dangerous Tipping Point

NEW YORK, New York, June 1, 2007 (ENS) - A stern warning that global warming is nearing an irreversible tipping point was issued today by the climate scientist who the Bush administration has tried to muzzle.

James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, today published a study showing that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities have brought the Earth’s climate close to critical tipping points, with potentially dangerous consequences for the planet.

"If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade," said Dr. Hansen, "this research shows that there will be disastrous effects, including increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones."

Read the full article
The US isn't doing much yet to address the situation, but that will happen when the folks writing our laws are in a major state of denial that there even is a problem. The WWF has released a report in anticipation of this week's G8 summit that critiques Bush's plan and details how the US and, surprisingly, Canada have failed to curb emissions:

Canada and the US score poorly on climate change

"By presenting climate promises without action, the US administration undermines [German Chancellor Merkel's] effort to secure a meaningful agreement at G8," says Hans Verolme, Director of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme. "Canada must break ranks with the US to restore its former reputation as a leader on climate change."

According to the analysis, Canada and the US have yet to begin limiting emissions of heat trapping gasses in a timeframe that will avoid dangerous climate change.

Read the full article
Why is the US so stubborn in its refusal to act decisively on an impending crisis that threatens our very survival? A cynic might argue that our policies are being influenced by powerful economic interests who don't want to see their carbon-based profits jeopardized. We also do have a president whose personal wealth is greatly tied to fossil fuels. Could they be selfish and greedy enough to put short term monetary gains above the long term best interests of their constituents? Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article that may help prove the most cynnical among us to be right:

Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS

WASHINGTON, May 28 — Even as Congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming, a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.

Prodded by intense lobbying from the coal industry, lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years.

Read the full article
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