Like most people, I’ve not paid as much attention to the climate change discussion as I probably should have. Past life experiences have given me an understanding of what could happen, and likely will happen, but immediacy somehow escaped me.
But I have done some studying, and while it has not made me an expert, it has convinced me that the experts are not in disagreement about whether global warming is happening – only about how much and how soon.
In other words, will it be an unsolvable concern to our great-grandkids? Or our great-great-grandkids?
A new study of 24 countries, commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne, and published Tuesday, notes that all the countries, whose number included developed and developing nations, have warmed since the 1960s. The occurrence of extremely warm temperatures has increased while extremely cold temperatures have become less frequent, the report says.
If emissions are left unchecked, the report says, temperatures would rise generally between three and five degrees Celsius this century. The change could lead to significant changes in rainfall patterns, leading in many cases to increased pressure on crop production, water stress and flood risks.
For the past two weeks, the 17th United Nations Climate Change Conference has been underway in Durban, South Africa. Last year it was in Cancun, and in 2009 in Copenhagen. Probably the best known recent conference was in Kyoto, Japan in 1997.
The 1997 conference produced the so-called Kyoto Protocol, which essentially called on the richest, most advanced and therefore most polluting nations to agree to significant curtailment of greenhouse emissions – such as carbon dioxide from burning carbon-based fuels. As President Bill Clinton’s representative to the conference, Todd Stern pretty much promised we would sign on.
He came home to find the U.S. Senate in 100 percent opposition, largely on the pretext that smaller developing nations, which typically do not have the huge industrial-polluter base of, say, China or the U.S., were not being held to the same reduction standards. China has set about reducing her pollution blanket, in no small part because of out of concern for both world and self-image. Even China’s leaders realize that an increasingly educated and affluent middle class will be difficult to control when it discovers its rulers have misled it into poor health and world disdain.
Clearly, Stern has learned his lesson. Yesterday he called a plan proposed by Durban conferees an “important and serious goal [and] guide to action.”
“It is important and serious and it is a guide. But that is different from being an operational cap, that we must meet,” Stern was quoted in The Economic Times. “We don’t see it akin to a national target.”
The Durban conference calls for establishing a new limit to global warming. Two degrees Celsius above the global pre-industrial temperature is considered to be a tipping point – beyond which further increase likely will be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent.
The issue has received some mention in regional newspapers, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It has received precious little discussion on national network news, except when one of the Republican presidential candidates poo-poos the notion as scientifically unproven.
For instance, in an apparent bid to win back some attention in the presidential sweepstakes, Jon Huntsman has changed his view on global warming. Last summer, he said he trusted scientists, and believed in global warming. Yesterday, he said scientists need to provide more proof.
“But there’s not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall, primarily because it’s a global issue,” he told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “I wouldn’t want to hinder job creators during a time when our economy is flat.
There are times when we show great willingness to lead the world.
But when it comes to the health of the planet and our fellow human inhabitants, we are more reticent. At the drop of a promise of jobs, we are ready to run a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, or from western Pa. to an East Coast shipping port. Somehow, the idea that developing renewable energy or reducing our dependence on dead dinosaurs and plants also could create jobs, many of which could not be shipped to other shores, escapes us.
And consider the economic consequences of coal companies that tell us of the jobs that will be lost if we stop burning the stuff, forgetting to mention the jobs already lost as the companies develop more efficient, less manpower-intensive, methods of extracting carbon fuel from the surrounding countryside.
Humans are not solely to blame for global warming. I remember a time in Maine, where I was raised, when deer could be tracked in snow at Thanksgiving, and when a White Christmas was virtually guaranteed to have a couple feet of spark repellant laid down for Santa’s sleigh. Many years have passed often with little or no snow for Christmas, but it seems the cycle is turning back.
But recognition of cycles should not be used as proof that we humans are not significant contributors to global warming. One need only place a hand on a white car, then a black one, to feel an indication of the difference a huge blacktopped parking lot makes in local temperatures. Watch the in-vehicle thermometer to see what happens when we drive out of a city into a sparsely populated, rural, area.
We know that regular maintenance can extend the usefulness of our machines. The same might serve our planet.
Or would we have our great-great-grandchildren looking back at what we could have done, and didn’t, to make their lives a little better?
Photo by ishmatt
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