Tag Archives: climate change

In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy

By LESLIE KAUFMAN
Published: October 18, 2010

SALINA, Kan. — Residents of this deeply conservative city do not put much stock in scientific predictions of climate change.

“Don’t mention global warming,” warned Nancy Jackson, chairwoman of the Climate and Energy Project, a small nonprofit group that aims to get people to rein in the fossil fuel emissions that contribute to climate change. “And don’t mention Al Gore. People out here just hate him.”

Saving energy, though, is another matter.

Last Halloween, schoolchildren here searched for “vampire” electric loads, or appliances that sap energy even when they seem to be off. Energy-efficient LED lights twinkled on the town’s Christmas tree. On Valentine’s Day, local restaurants left their dining room lights off and served meals by candlelight.

The fever for reducing dependence on fossil fuels has spread beyond this city of red-brick Eisenhower-era buildings to other towns on the Kansas plains. A Lutheran church in nearby Lindsborg was inspired to install geothermal heating. The principal of Mount Hope’s elementary school dressed up as an energy bandit at a student assembly on home-energy conservation. Hutchinson won a contract to become home to a $50 million wind turbine factory.

Town managers attribute the new resolve mostly to a yearlong competition sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project, which set out to extricate energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics.

Attempts by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases are highly unpopular here because of opposition to large-scale government intervention. Some are skeptical that humans might fundamentally alter a world that was created by God.

If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, Ms. Jackson and others decided, the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.

Think of it as a green variation on “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Ms. Jackson suggested, referring to the 2004 book by Thomas Frank that contended that Republicans had come to dominate the state’s elections by exploiting social values.

The project’s strategy seems to have worked. In the course of the program, which ended last spring, energy use in the towns declined as much as 5 percent relative to other areas — a giant step in the world of energy conservation, where a program that yields a 1.5 percent decline is considered successful.

The towns were featured as a case study on changing behavior by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And the Climate and Energy Project just received a grant from the Kansas Energy Office to coordinate a competition among 16 Kansas cities to cut energy use in 2011.

The energy experiment started as a kitchen-table challenge three years ago.

Over dinner, Wes Jackson, the president of the Land Institute, which promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture, complained to Ms. Jackson, his daughter-in-law, that even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.

Why did the conversation have to be about climate change? Ms. Jackson countered. If the goal was to persuade people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, why not identify issues that motivated them instead of getting stuck on something that did not?

Only 48 percent of people in the Midwest agree with the statement that there is “solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer,” a poll conducted in the fall of 2009 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed — far fewer than in other regions of the country.

The Jacksons already knew firsthand that such skepticism was not just broad, but also deep. Like opposition to abortion or affirmations of religious faith, they felt, it was becoming a cultural marker that helped some Kansans define themselves.

Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson felt so strongly that this opposition could be overcome that she left a job as development director at the University of Kansas in Lawrence to start the Climate and Energy Project with a one-time grant from the Land Institute. (The project is now independent.)

At the outset she commissioned focus groups of independents and Republicans around Wichita and Kansas City to get a sense of where they stood. Many participants suggested that global warming could be explained mostly by natural earth cycles, and a vocal minority even asserted that it was a cynical hoax perpetrated by climate scientists who were greedy for grants.

Yet Ms. Jackson found plenty of openings. Many lamented the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Some articulated an amorphous desire, often based in religious values, to protect the earth. Some even spoke of changes in the natural world — birds arriving weeks earlier in the spring than they had before — leading her to wonder whether, deep down, they might suspect that climate change was afoot.

Ms. Jackson settled on a three-pronged strategy. Invoking the notion of thrift, she set out to persuade towns to compete with one another to become more energy-efficient. She worked with civic leaders to embrace green jobs as a way of shoring up or rescuing their communities. And she spoke with local ministers about “creation care,” the obligation of Christians to act as stewards of the world that God gave them, even creating a sermon bank with talking points they could download.

Relatively little was said about climate.

“I don’t recall us being recruited under a climate change label at all,” said Stacy Huff, an executive for the Coronado Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which was enlisted to help the project. Mr. Huff describes himself as “somewhat skeptical” about global warming.

Mr. Huff said the project workers emphasized conservation for future generations when they recruited his group. The message resonated, and the scouts went door to door in low-income neighborhoods to deliver and install weatherization kits.

“It is in our DNA to leave a place better than we found it,” he said.

Elliot Lahn, a community development planner for Merriam, a city that reduced its energy use by 5 percent, said that when public meetings were held on the six-town competition to save energy, some residents offered their view that global warming was a hoax.

But they were very eager to hear about saving money, Mr. Lahn said. “That’s what really motivated them.”

Jerry Clasen, a grain farmer in Reno County, south of Salina, said he largely discounted global warming. “I believe we are going through a cycle and it is not a big deal,” he said. But his ears pricked up when project workers came to town to talk about harnessing wind power. “There is no sense in our dependency on foreign oil,” he said, “especially since we have got this resource here.”

Mr. Clasen helped organize a group of local leaders to lobby the electronics and energy giant Siemens to build a wind turbine factory in the area. When the company signed a deal in 2009 promising to create as many as 400 local jobs, it stirred a wave of excitement about the future of wind power.

Now, farmers expect to lease some of their land for turbines and rely on wind power as a stable source of income, he said, and land prices are rising as result.

“Whether or not the earth is getting warmer,” he said, “it feels good to be part of something that works for Kansas and for the nation.”

 

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6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds

TheWeek.com posted on September 1, 2010, at 2:15 PM

Bjorn Lomborg, a renowned climate change skeptic, recently announced he's changed his mind on the topic.

With 2010 shaping up as the warmest year on record and unprecedented heat waves gripping the planet, global warming skeptics have suffered another blow with the defection of the “most high-profile” member of their camp, author Bjorn Lomborg. But Lomborg isn’t the first doubter to accept the scientific consensus that human carbon emissions are warming the planet and need to be curtailed. Here, a review of several prominent cases:

1. Bjorn Lomborg, Danish academic
Lomborg made waves with his 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that global warming was no big deal, and fighting it would be a waste of money. This month, he’s publishing Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which argues that a global carbon tax should be imposed to raise $150 billion a year to address global warming.
Before quote: “In 20 years’ time, we’ll look back and wonder why we worried so much.” (2002)
After quote: “We actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.” (2010)

2. Dmitri Medvedev, Russian president
Russian leaders are famously skeptical of global warming, with then–President Vladimir Putin quipping in 2003 that a warmer Russia “wouldn’t be so bad” because “we could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” Then Russia caught fire this summer, choking Moscow with deadly smoke, devastating agricultural production, and convincing Medvedev and other leaders that perhaps global warming is a threat, after all.
Before quote: Climate change is “some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects.” (2009)
After quote: “Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” (2010)

3. Michael Hanlon, British science journalist
Hanlon, science editor for The Daily Mail, was a self-professed skeptic on climate change until a recent trip to Greenland, where he witnessed the accelerated disintegration of the country’s massive ice sheet. A few days on the melting ice floes, he says, “is certainly enough to blow a few skeptical cobwebs away.”
Before quote: “Global warming, indeed much of environmentalism, has become a new religion. Like the old religions, environmentalism preaches much good sense, is well meaning, but has a worrying lack of logic at its core.” (2000)
After quote: “I have long been something of a climate-change sceptic, but my views in recent years have shifted. For me, the most convincing evidence that something worrying is going on lies right here in the Arctic.” (2010)

4. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine
In 2001, Shermer hosted a Skeptics Society debate on global warming, prompted by Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist. He sided, predictably, with the skeptics. Then he looked at the science, and in 2006 reached a “flipping point,” acknowledging the “overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming.”
Before quote: “Scientists like Bjorn Lomborg in The Skeptical Environmentalist have, in my opinion, properly nailed environmental extremists for these exaggerated scenarios.” (2008, referring to 2001)
After quote: “Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.” (2006)

5. Gregg Easterbrook, American journalist and author
Easterbrook was an early skeptic of global warming, writing an influential book, A Moment on the Earth, in 1995 that was dismissive of mankind’s role in climate change. By 2006, he’d been swayed by the decade of climate research, and wrote an essay entitled “Case Closed: The Debate About Global Warming is Over.”
Before quote:
“Instant-doomsday hyperbole caused the world’s attention to focus on the hypothetical threat of global warming to the exclusion of environmental menaces that are real, palpable, and awful right now.” (1995, PDF)
After quote: “The science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous… Based on the data I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.” (2006)

6. Stu Ostro, Weather Channel senior meteorologist
A recent survey found that many meteorologists and TV weathercasters are skeptical (or even “cynical”) about anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and Ostro used to fit in that camp. Now he regularly explains the connection between man-made climate change and the extreme weather roiling the world.
Before quote: Large swings in temperature “happened long before humans had a chance to influence the environment, [and] typically occurred within a 10-year period, indicating that drastic climate change can occur through natural means, and quickly.” (1999)
After quote: “When it comes to skepticism about AGW, you could say I have street cred,” but “it could be said that I ‘converted’ and became a ‘believer.'” (2010)

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Climate change opposition’s last croak

Cam Cardow, copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

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Warming Is Real. Now What? (EcoLuxury is what!)

Books of The New York Times

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Published: August 2, 2010

Even as Democrats abandoned efforts late last month to advance a major climate change bill through the Senate, books about global warming continue to pour forth. Two of the more interesting ones do not waste time rearguing debates over the science (in 2007 a United Nations panel, synthesizing the work of hundreds of climatologists from around the world, called evidence for global warming “unequivocal”), but instead take as a starting point the clear and present dangers posed by the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels.

 “The Climate War,” by Eric Pooley — deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and former managing editor of Fortune — looks at the hotly contested politics of global warming, especially as it’s been played out in Washington over the last three years. “The Weather of the Future,” by Heidi Cullen — a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization — offers a scorching vision of what life might be like in the warmer world that is already on its way.

Although “Weather of the Future” sounds like an exercise in speculation, Ms. Cullen grounds her harrowing predictions — extrapolations, really — in “the best available science” derived from an array of climate models, environmental data and interviews with scientists. And her forecasts actually turn out to be an armature for discussing the fallout of climate change (from rising sea levels to more extreme weather) in an accessible, tactile fashion and for examining existing liabilities in various regions and cities, like overstretched infrastructure and dwindling water supplies.

In what will come as little surprise to Americans suffering through this summer’s persistent heat waves, Ms. Cullen notes that the average annual temperature in the United States “has risen more than two degrees F during the past 50 years, and the temperature will continue to rise, depending on the amount of heat-trapping gases we emit globally.”

By 2050, with midrange emissions, she writes, “a day so hot that it is currently experienced only once every 20 years would occur every three years over much of the continental United States”; and by the end the century, “such a day would occur every other year, or more often.”

Because a warmer climate means more evaporation of water from land and oceans, Ms. Cullen observes, it also results “in longer and more severe droughts in some areas and more flooding in others.” And because a warmer world means the continued melting of glaciers and polar ice, it leads to rising sea levels — which threaten places prone to flooding, as well as places vulnerable to sea surges during hurricanes.

In the case of New York City, hotter summers lead to a heavier reliance on air-conditioning, which leads to more stress on an already strained electrical grid. Also at risk, says Rae Zimmerman, a member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, is much of the city’s critical infrastructure, which sits less than 10 feet above sea level, including the New York entrance to the Holland Tunnel (at 9.5 feet above sea level) and La Guardia Airport (at 6.8 feet above sea level).

As for the Central Valley in California, which is the hub of that state’s water supply system, providing water for two out of three Californians, it is vulnerable to the catastrophic failure of its canals and levees, whether from an earthquake or the slowly rising sea level — much the way New Orleans was vulnerable to flooding during Hurricane Katrina. Ms. Cullen adds that global warming is also likely to affect the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which is the “true basis of California’s water system,” just as it is likely to lead to “hotter wildfires that are harder to control.”

In many parts of the world climate change will have serious geopolitical fallout as well. Droughts and floods in Bangladesh, Ms. Cullen says, could result in more and more climate refugees, even as a growing scarcity of groundwater in northern India could further exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan. National security experts, she writes, see climate change as a “threat multiplier,” leading to increased tensions between rich and poor nations, and amplifying regional political disputes over access to water and food in times of drought (as has happened, for instance, in Darfur).

Although there were hopes that last year’s United Nations talks in Copenhagen would lead to an important accord on climate change, the final document to come out of the summit was a statement of intention, not a binding pledge, to begin taking action on global warming. In the view of many scientists and politicians, the disappointing outcome stemmed partly from the failure of the United States Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the summit — which, in turn, meant that China would not agree to an absolute reduction of its emissions.

In “The Climate War,” which ends with the Copenhagen summit, Mr. Pooley gives us a detailed, if sometimes longwinded, account of the political battle to get Congress to take legislative action on global warming. It is a depressing account of gridlock in Washington, of efforts by conservative lobbyists to deny the phenomenon altogether (and when that hasn’t worked, to delay any sort of action), and of infighting within the environmental left over whether to compromise and try to get the support of centrists and corporate interests, or whether to take a hard-line, ideological stand. It is a story about how the economic meltdown of 2008 and the ensuing recession — and concerns about job losses and other short-term costs of establishing a clean-energy economy — affected the debate over global warming and the political arithmetic that members of Congress and the Obama administration have been doing over the viability of climate change legislation.

Mr. Pooley tells this story by focusing on a couple of key people: most notably, former Vice President Al Gore, the public face of the antiglobal warming crusade; Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, who “often forged partnerships with industry and pushed for agreements that the left couldn’t stand”; and Mr. Krupp’s sometime ally Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, who joined other business executives and the leaders of several national environmental groups to form the United States Climate Action Partnership, an organization calling for an economywide solution to global warming and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In these pages Mr. Pooley deftly explicates the political maneuvering surrounding the controversial concept of “cap and trade” (a mandatory and declining limit on carbon emissions, combined with a system of tradable emissions permits) and does a suspenseful job of recounting the walk-up to last year’s extremely close vote in the House (219 to 212), passing a climate change bill. Because Senate Democrats decided only two weeks ago (long after this book went to press) that they did not have the votes to pass a broad energy bill including a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Pooley’s book ends on an unfinished, cliffhanger note.

“In their least guarded moments,” Mr. Pooley writes, “the climate campaigners would tell you what they had always known in their bones: their work was necessary but not sufficient. Climate action was going to happen sooner or later, but they couldn’t make it happen. It might be inevitable — the true believers still believed it was — but it would only become real when enough people demanded it and shouted down the lobbyists and the professional deniers and demanded it again. Alexis de Tocqueville long ago said that in the United States, events ‘can move from the impossible to the inevitable without ever stopping at the probable.’ Was that still true? How bad did things need to get before the moment came? Would the prospect of a clean-energy economy, and the jobs it would bring, mobilize enough people to make a difference? Or would some sort of monstrous, galvanic weather event — epic heat and drought, Katrina on steroids — be needed to shake America fully awake?”

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Our Beaker Is Starting to Boil

Op-Ed By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF  The New York Times: Published: July 16, 2010

These days, Mr. Breashears is still climbing the Himalayas, but he is lugging more than pitons and ice axes. He’s also carrying special cameras to document stunning declines in glaciers on the roof of the world.

Mr. Breashears first reached the top of Everest in 1983, and in many subsequent trips to the region he noticed the topography changing, the glaciers shrinking. So he dug out archive photos from early Himalayan expeditions, and then journeyed across ridges and crevasses to photograph from the exact same spots.

The pairs of matched photographs, old and new, are staggering. Time and again, the same glaciers have shrunk drastically in every direction, often losing hundreds of feet in height.

“I was just incredulous,” he told me. “We took measurements with laser rangefinders to measure the loss of height of the glaciers. The drop was often the equivalent of a 35- or 40-story building.”

Mr. Breashears led me through a display of these paired photographs at the Asia Society in New York. One 1921 photo by George Mallory, the famous mountaineer who died near the summit of Everest three years later, shows the Main Rongbuk Glacier. Mr. Breashears located the very spot from which Mallory had snapped that photo and took another — only it is a different scene, because the glacier has lost 330 feet of vertical ice.

Some research in social psychology suggests that our brains are not well adapted to protect ourselves from gradually encroaching harms. We evolved to be wary of saber-toothed tigers and blizzards, but not of climate change — and maybe that’s also why we in the news media tend to cover weather but not climate. The upshot is that we’re horrifyingly nonchalant at the prospect that rising carbon emissions may devastate our favorite planet.

NASA says that the January-through-June period this year was the hottest globally since measurements began in 1880. The Web site ClimateProgress.org, which calls for more action on climate change, suggests that 2010 is likely to be the warmest year on record. Likewise, the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that the months of May and June had the lowest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere since the lab began satellite observations in 1967.

So signs of danger abound, but like the proverbial slow-boiling frog, we seem unable to rouse ourselves.

(Actually, it seems that frogs will not remain in a beaker that is slowly heated. Snopes.com quotes a distinguished zoologist as saying that frogs become agitated as the temperature slowly rises and struggle to escape, although it does not specify how the zoologist knows this.)

From our own beaker, we’ve watched with glazed eyes as glaciers have retreated worldwide. Glacier National Park now has only about 25 glaciers, compared with around 150 a century ago. In the Himalayas, the shrinkage seems to be accelerating, with Chinese scientific measurements suggesting that some glaciers are now losing up to 26 feet in height per year.

Orville Schell, who runs China programs at the Asia Society, described passing a series of pagodas as he approached the Mingyong Glacier on the Tibetan plateau. The pagodas were viewing platforms, and had to be rebuilt as the glacier retreated: this monumental, almost eternal force of nature seemed mortally wounded.

“A glacier is a giant part of the alpine landscape, something we always saw as immortal,” Mr. Schell said. “But now this glacier is dying before our eyes.”

An Indian glaciologist, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, now at the Stimson Center in Washington, told me that most Himalayan glaciers are in retreat for three reasons. First is the overall warming tied to carbon emissions. Second, rain and snow patterns are changing, so that less new snow is added to replace what melts. Third, pollution from trucks and smoke covers glaciers with carbon soot so that their surfaces become darker and less reflective — causing them to melt more quickly.

The retreat of the glaciers threatens agriculture downstream. A study published last month in Science magazine indicated that glacier melt is essential for the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers, while less important a component of the Ganges, Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The potential disappearance of the glaciers, the report said, is “threatening the food security of an estimated 60 million people” in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

We Americans have been galvanized by the oil spill on our gulf coast, because we see tar balls and dead sea birds as visceral reminders of our hubris in deep sea drilling. The melting glaciers should be a similar warning of our hubris — and of the consequences that the earth will face for centuries unless we address carbon emissions today.

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Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

The Huffington Post
Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte
Mary Ellen is a biologist; John Harte is an ecologist.
Posted: March 20, 2010 02:13 PM

Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

According to a recent Huffington Post blog by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson of Public Agenda, scientists present the facts surrounding the causes and consequences of climate change, but do nothing towards assessing and offering solutions.

Ah, so true for so many – but why expect scientists to excel in policy, anymore than we expect politicians or economists to excel in science?

Yet, increasingly, our society needs more people who have a firm comprehension of all these areas, since science is increasingly integral to the formation of governmental and economic policy in many areas, including climate change. There are a few multi-disciplinary graduate programs that do provide such an education, but not nearly enough. This is seen in the increasing, yearly number of excellent applicants that must be turned away from these programs due to lack of facilities — programs, such as the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley. (Full disclosure: One of us is a faculty member in that program.) Our country needs to devote far more resources to providing students with the insights and skill sets of both the natural and social sciences.

In the meantime, there are some scientists who have done exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for, so the more compelling question becomes: why haven’t their views been widely disseminated? Our society now suffers from an exploding fire hydrant of unfiltered information, thanks to the net and other proliferating media pathways, that have people drowning as they try to sort through it all.

Why is there so much unfiltered information? Partly because some reporters and their editors who, in the interests of trying to appear unbiased, report the patently absurd (some scientists make mistakes, so global warming is a hoax) right alongside the serious (the overwhelming amount of evidence indicates that global warming is real, despite the mistakes that some scientists make), or are not capable of distinguishing between the two. Partly, it is due to some economic powers with strong interests in perpetuating our energy economy the way it is (think fossil fuel industries, for example). They can bankroll a pretty big publicity campaign to mislead the public, as spelled out in the forthcoming book by Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt. They mislead through distraction, or smearing good scientists and/or good science.

In such a climate, it’s no wonder much of the public throws up its hands wondering what to do. The days of Albert Einstein being the national scientific idol are long gone, because we no longer have the context in which to support one, amidst the flood of unfiltered information and accusations.

So what do scientists say about solutions? Jim Hansen, the most prominent US government climate scientist, favors a carbon tax. Our personal bias is spelled out in the book that we provide only as a free download online, Cool The Earth, Save the Economy. (Full disclosure: Yes, we did write it. But the answer to Bittle and Johnson’s question necessarily involves self-promotion. We have not derived, nor will derive, any profits from the book in its current form (nor do we plan to do so). The book does exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for: it assesses available solutions, and outlines a policy in terms of practicalities, like cost and political acceptability. And it includes the three suggestions offered by Bittle and Johnson: it connects the energy crisis and climate change, it does not ignore the economics, and we present the information credibly as experienced educators — although, as noted above, credibility is a perishable commodity in a world of unfiltered information and accusations. People will have to judge for themselves if the book and its plan reflect common sense. Many have told us that it does.

Our overarching economic energy policy does not include cap and trade or a tax on carbon, but rather, suggests that the US implements both sticks, such as regulations, and carrots — market incentives such as 1) a tax break on the profits of those who sell truly clean energy and energy efficiency products; and 2) shifting energy subsidies from fossil fuels to truly clean, renewable energy sources. Let the market pick the winners. Make clean energy and energy efficiency cheaper rather than punishing users of fossil fuels with higher costs. President Obama has started to do some of these things.

We suggest that everyone, including Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, read the book. And look over our archive of Huffington Post blogs addressing climate change.

And spread the word.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-ellen-harte-and-john-harte/addressing-climate-change_b_507038.html?view=print

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We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change

February 28, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor
We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change
By AL GORE
The New York Times

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy — the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.

But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.

I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.

It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate. In addition, e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.

The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.

Here is what scientists have found is happening to our climate: man-made global-warming pollution traps heat from the sun and increases atmospheric temperatures. These pollutants — especially carbon dioxide — have been increasing rapidly with the growth in the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and forests, and temperatures have increased over the same period. Almost all of the ice-covered regions of the Earth are melting — and seas are rising. Hurricanes are predicted to grow stronger and more destructive, though their number is expected to decrease. Droughts are getting longer and deeper in many mid-continent regions, even as the severity of flooding increases. The seasonal predictability of rainfall and temperatures is being disrupted, posing serious threats to agriculture. The rate of species extinction is accelerating to dangerous levels.

Though there have been impressive efforts by many business leaders, hundreds of millions of individuals and families throughout the world and many national, regional and local governments, our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them.

And in spite of President Obama’s efforts at the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December, global leaders failed to muster anything more than a decision to “take note” of an intention to act.

Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution.

The political paralysis that is now so painfully evident in Washington has thus far prevented action by the Senate — not only on climate and energy legislation, but also on health care reform, financial regulatory reform and a host of other pressing issues.

This comes with painful costs. China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution, had privately signaled early last year that if the United States passed meaningful legislation, it would join in serious efforts to produce an effective treaty. When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed.

Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.

But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.

Second, we should have no illusions about the difficulty and the time needed to convince the rest of the world to adopt a completely new approach. The lags in the global climate system, including the buildup of heat in the oceans from which it is slowly reintroduced into the atmosphere, means that we can create conditions that make large and destructive consequences inevitable long before their awful manifestations become apparent: the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases.

It’s important to point out that the United States is not alone in its inaction. Global political paralysis has thus far stymied work not only on climate, but on trade and other pressing issues that require coordinated international action.

The reasons for this are primarily economic. The globalization of the economy, coupled with the outsourcing of jobs from industrial countries, has simultaneously heightened fears of further job losses in the industrial world and encouraged rising expectations in emerging economies. The result? Heightened opposition, in both the industrial and developing worlds, to any constraints on the use of carbon-based fuels, which remain our principal source of energy.

The decisive victory of democratic capitalism over communism in the 1990s led to a period of philosophical dominance for market economics worldwide and the illusion of a unipolar world. It also led, in the United States, to a hubristic “bubble” of market fundamentalism that encouraged opponents of regulatory constraints to mount an aggressive effort to shift the internal boundary between the democracy sphere and the market sphere. Over time, markets would most efficiently solve most problems, they argued. Laws and regulations interfering with the operations of the market carried a faint odor of the discredited statist adversary we had just defeated.

This period of market triumphalism coincided with confirmation by scientists that earlier fears about global warming had been grossly understated. But by then, the political context in which this debate took form was tilted heavily toward the views of market fundamentalists, who fought to weaken existing constraints and scoffed at the possibility that global constraints would be needed to halt the dangerous dumping of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere.

Over the years, as the science has become clearer and clearer, some industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation — just as tobacco companies blocked constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart.

Simultaneously, changes in America’s political system — including the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication — conferred powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms. Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment. And as in times past, that has proved to be a potent drug in the veins of the body politic. Their most consistent theme is to label as “socialist” any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace.

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis — inconvenient as ever — must still be faced.

The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation.

I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.

We have overcome existential threats before. Winston Churchill is widely quoted as having said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required.” Now is that time. Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so — or must replace them.

Al Gore, the vice president from 1993 to 2001, is the founder of the Alliance for Climate Protection and the author of “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” As a businessman, he is an investor in alternative energy companies.

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