Monday, December 21, 2009

You go Obama

The verdict is still out on the Copenhagen summit. Did we save the planet? Did Obama win a political victory? Or was it a shambles showing that international consensus is impossible on such a complex issue, never mind the exhortations that Armageddon was at hand?

Environmentalists, particularly the well organized European green NGOS, as well as poorer nations in line to bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change in the next 50 to 100 years, took the position that only verifiable and legally binding commitments from the world's worst polluters that would ensure warming limited to 2 degrees centigrade by the century's end would do. For them Copenhagen was absolutely the last chance to square things before time runs out on our efforts to turn things around. I worked for Friends of the Earth in the early nineties, and I know the painstaking work that is involved in arriving at consensus positions for these negotiations. The line is always maintained to the bitter end and anything less is accounted as failure. But in the real world, democracy is messy and involves continual compromise and refinement, and from this perspective, I think there is great reason for rejoicing from the outcome in Copenhagen, and more proof of Obama's prescient and dexterous hand at achieving the best possible outcome at any given moment. In almost a year we've gone from a decade of impasse and dangerous drift, with the United States seemingly stuck with its head in the sand perpetually on this issue, to an agreement with the leading generator of carbon - China, along with emerging economic and regional political giants India, Brazil and South Africa on the need to cap and bring down CO2 to safe levels in the atmosphere, for making funds available to poorer nations for climate change adaptations,
and on establishing international verification of measures to maintain a level playing field in the world economy. This is a huge step forward for the foundations of a sustainable global economy and for advancing the adoption of a cap and trade regime by the US Congress in the coming year. Dinosaurs like Oklahoma Republican James Inhoffe, who travelled to Copenhagen to spread his absurd version that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by renegade scientists on the world to secure funding for their projects, have been appropriately sidelined. Talk about drinking the Kool Aid, only in his case it must have been the same vat of white lightning shared with Merle Haggard before he sang I'm Proud to be an Oakie from Muskogee. With his popularity in the polls sinking, it is ironic that Obama is turning lemons into lemonade all around the block; as usual, the media soaked American public is lagging behind the reality of the situation, or at least the poll numbers are.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Fool's Wager

The Climategate saga goes on, mostly in the conspiracy-fueled imaginations of right wingers who would like to seize on the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia as an excuse to drag through the mud the scientific community's consensus around the theory that anthropogenic global warming could force shifts in climate in the next 50 to 100 years not seen in the entire 10,000 years of human civilization. What the emails do show is that scientists are capable of imagining and even conspiring to misbehave. They do not show that the science behind global warming is off in its entirety at all. There is always a range of scenarios that scientists consider, and in the last ten years the evidence, from institutions and scientists around the world including NASA's esteemed Jim Hansen, not just the above-mentioned Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has consistently shown that business-as-usual emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas emitted by burning fossil fuels that traps heat in the atmosphere, have the potential of at worst ushering in a temperature regime that would make uninhabitable large parts of the world, and at best lead to increased sea levels, flooding, droughts, increased prevalence of disease, famine, collapse and disappearance of entire nations including the South Pacific islands.
Typical of the commentary is this from Tom Karst, editor of The Packer, the trade journal of the mainstream produce industry:

"But do we really have to do something, NOW, about climate change?

What’s the rush? Let’s leave room for some skepticism.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., recently released a statement that American agriculture can’t afford the higher energy prices and operating costs associated with the “cap and tax” climate change bill.

I tend to agree with Lucas. Agriculture and fruit and vegetable growers should not go along to get along.

If Obama is hell-bent on making carbon based fuels prohibitively expensive, let him show the commitment to develop a new generation of nuclear power plants in the U.S."

Notice the whining, NOW? So like the 10 year-old who doesn't want to clean his room because he's playing video games at the moment and what could be more important? So the whole point of raising doubts about the science seems to be to protect the short-term profitability of whatever business. There seems to be a fool's wager going on that makes my blood boil for one because if I was Dante and designing a new Inferno I would reserve a special circle in hell for people who are willing to put my children's future on the line for the sake of their comfort and profit.

Like St. Peter, I prefer this bet: if people like me are wrong, and we invest billions to shift to renewable energy, advanced public transport, denser urban communities, organic agriculture, etc. only to discover years down the road that Mother Nature could in fact take care of herself and had inbuilt negative feedback in the form of clouds or volcanic eruptions or something, then what have we lost? It's just money. But if people like Mr. Karst are wrong and we do nothing because we prefer business as usual than having to get off our backsides and it turns out that we blew it - the ice shelves melt, the permafrost releases its load of methane stored for 50,000 years in a year or two and Earth is no longer blue from outer space - then what have we lost? It was just our planet. It's a no-brainer, folks. We need to do something now a) while we still can, and b) while its relatively affordable and doable to make the switch.