Monday, August 13, 2012

Strike while the Climate Change iron is hot

 

ClimateChangeChampionThe small, but financially powerful, klatch of Climate Change deniers must be feeling beleaguered as so much information contrary to their belief system surfaces wildly throughout our media. Besides major articles that connect the present warming in the US (The New Climate Dice: Public Perception of Climate Change by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy — July 2012 and Global Warming's Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben), there are innumerable articles that make it plain that our present warming is like nothing else in the past several hundred years:

  • To date, 2012 is hottest year on record for the Northeast “New data released by the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) at Cornell shows the Northeast's seven-month average (January through July) of 49.9 degrees was the warmest such period since 1895, the year such record keeping began. It has been the second warmest such period in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the warmest first seven months of the year in the rest of the Northeast.”  (August 7, 2012) Chronicle Online
  • California prepares for harsh realities of changing climate “Climate change is real and unfolding, and the outlook for California is bleak. A series of state-sponsored scientific studies released Tuesday warns that California can expect more scorching heat waves, severe and damaging wildfires, emergency room visits and strain on the electric grid as the Earth continues to warm and sea levels rise along the state's 1,100-mile long coast.” (July 31, 2012) Home - San Jose Mercury News

Climate Change champions must use this present heatwave as a teaching opportunity for the public before their attention wanes—like it did after Love Canal and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when we returned to business as usual. For without public understanding and support of Climate Change, most will continue to see this summer’s heatwave as merely a unique string of weather events.

However, Climate Change champions should also take heed of NYT environmental reporter Andrew Revkin’s warning of the irrational exuberance that followed NASA’s story about a remarkably quick melting of Greenland’s glaciers this July.

‘Unprecedented’ Greenland Surface Melt – Every 150 Years? The flow of news releases and background science content from NASA is generally excellent, but the space agency badly blew it earlier this week with this headline, which has now reverberated around the Web: “Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt.” (July 25, 2012) Dot Earth

I mention Revkin’s article to highlight several points about the tangled web of Climate Change. It’s complicated and easily confused by those who benefit from sowing doubt. Environmentalists shouldn’t overstep the real facts with misleading facts, for the accumulated evidence over the past thirty years has been quite enough to convince an overwhelming majority of climate scientists that our atmosphere is indeed warming up.

Let’s be clear; this is the message from the UNFCCC Seventeenth Conference of the Parties, Durban Wednesday, 30 November 2011:

“Warming in the climate system is unequivocal; Most of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations; Continue greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

Climate Change is like no other issue humanity has ever faced, where our actions and inactions will affect the fate of the entire planet. Absurdly, and almost impossible to imagine, the series of heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts that have ravaged our country this summer are absent from the one arena where it might actually result in action on an issue of this magnitude—the presidential elections. Even though it was only last April that President Obama released Administration Releases 10-Year Global Change Strategic Plan -- “… prepare for anticipated changes in the global environment, including climate change”, the issue of Climate Changes goes ignored (although not ignored by Climate Change champions like US Senator from Nevada Harry Reid and US Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders.)

Already we have missed great opportunities to take responsibility for our planet, and that means years of continued warming even if we could stop all anthropogenic greenhouse gases right now. One such missed opportunity was President Carter’s July 15, 1979 ‘malaise’ speech in which he told the American people:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem. The American Experience

Because President Carter’s opponents successfully characterized the speech as dismal, our country leaped down ‘a mistaken idea of freedom’ path and voted in a president who unleashed the full power of free market fundamentalism, therefore removing any chance of addressing energy issues that are directly connected to Climate Change. Considering the threat of Climate Change now, what if we had listened more closely to President Carter then?

Winston Churchill said of us, "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." While that may garner hope for some, Climate Change champions would do well not to let this summer’s Climate Change reality disappear back into business as usual. For ‘business as usual’ is interpreted by most Climate Change studies as the worst case scenario for those who follow us.

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