Saturday, March 30, 2013

You go into Climate Change with the environment you have


BringItOnIn 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld infamously said, “You go to war with the army you have---not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” He said this in response to a soldier’s question about the lack of sufficient armor for our troops in Iraq. The statement was infamous not so much because it was factually untrue, but because Rumsfeld failed to mention that the Iraq War was a war of choice—something Bush II cooked up in a moment of hubris. Rumsfeld should have said something like, “In a war of our own choosing, we should have waited until we were better prepared.” But that’s not what you say when you think you’re top dog and you want what you want when you want it.

In much the same way we are going to battle against Climate Change with the environment we have today, an environment not as robust and resilient as we would wish it to be. Five-hundred years ago, a blink in geological time, our rivers were teeming with fish, our air clean, wildlife plentiful, birds in numbers that darkened the skies, and our soil free of manmade chemicals. Today, just staying in place, keeping our environment healthy, is a challenge. We must stock our streams to have enough fish to fish.

Here’s a wonderful way to express the incredible challenge of wildlife adapting to Climate Change in one pithy sentence: “Some migratory species yo-yo from the Southern Hemisphere to the Arctic and back, countering the planet’s seasonal tilt, to remain in more or less continuous summer all year.” NY Review of Books. You can view seasonal bird migrations as their strategy for staying in the same climate they are adapted to. (Which, is great if you have tens of thousands of years to adapt.) But we are warming the planet far faster than birds, or most plants and animal species for that matter, can evolve their way to survival. There is going to be a lot of collateral damage—and our present environment doesn’t have much cargo we can spare to throw overboard.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a report this week on our streams and rivers that revealed they are in seriously degraded condition. They are in very poor health, not in the kind of health needed to withstand a rapid warming.

Most streams, rivers in poor health for water life: EPA Fifty-five percent of U.S. river and stream lengths were in poor condition for aquatic life, largely under threat from runoff contaminated by fertilizers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday. High levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, runoff from urban areas, shrinking ground cover and pollution from mercury and bacteria were putting the 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) of streams and rivers surveyed under stress, the EPA said. "This new science shows that America's streams and rivers are under significant pressure," Nancy Stone, acting administrator of the EPA's Office of Water, said in a statement. Twenty-one percent of the United States' river and stream length was in good biological condition, down from 27 percent in 2004, according to the survey, carried out in 2008 and 2009 at almost 2,000 sites. (3/26/2013) Reuters

If you don’t have the time to read the whole report, you can read the two-page fact sheet here: The National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009: A Collaborative Survey

Another report released by the US Department of the Interior describes how our fish, wildlife, and plant resources are going to be challenged during Climate Change: National Strategy Will Help Safeguard Fish, Wildlife and Plants in a Changing Climate. It says just about everything that constitutes our environment—fish, wildlife, plants, deserts, forest, shrublands, aquatic tundra, inland waters, grasslands, marine, Western pines, waterfowl, salmon, oysters, butterflies, commercial fisheries, polar bears--are in trouble. Again, you can read the short version if you don’t have time for the long version.

The report says “The problem is serious and urgent. The nation must prepare for and adapt to a changing climate.” But the report also says, “The Climate Adaptation Strategy … provides specific voluntary steps …. The strategy does not prescribe any mandatory activities for government or nongovernmental entities, nor suggest any regulatory actions.” The key words here are ‘voluntary” and ‘does not prescribe any mandatory activities…’ and they are sure to please libertarians and Climate Change contrarians.

A sort of bring-it-on attitude suffuses our government in that our leaders are aware of the dire consequences of Climate Change, aware of the poor state of health our environment is in, yet fail to lead with any mandatory activities. That’s like asking a multi-national oil company that has just trashed a large part of your marine life to pretty please clean that up. Please. Stiff fines and jail sentences are the only thing polluters understand.

The environment we are taking into Climate Change (and it is our treatment of our environment that has put it in this poor state) is certainly not the one we would want or wish for at a later time. At a later time, our grand children will probably be trying to figure out why we created the circumstances that brought on Climate Change if we were not willing to properly prepare for it.

If we were willing to properly prepare for Climate Change, we’d have long ago addressed this craven absurdity:

IMF: Want to fight climate change? Get rid of $1.9 trillion in energy subsidies. What’s the simplest way to tackle global warming? Make sure that fossil fuels are priced properly and not subsidized. That’s the core idea behind a large new report (pdf) from the International Monetary Fund, which argues that the world “misprices” fossil fuels to the tune of some $1.9 trillion per year. Eliminating these subsidies, the IMF argues, and replacing them with appropriate carbon taxes could cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by 13 percent, curtail air pollution, and shore up the finances of many poorer countries now in debt trouble. (March 27, 2013) Washington Post

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