Thursday, November 22, 2007

Going Green? Easy Doesn't Do It

By Michael Maniates

Franklin Roosevelt didn't mobilize the country's energies by listing 10 easy ways to oppose fascism.

The hard facts are these: If we sum up the easy, cost-effective, eco-efficiency measures we should all embrace, the best we get is a slowing of the growth of environmental damage. That's hardly enough: Avoiding the worst risks of climate change, for instance, may require reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years while invoking the moral authority such reductions would confer to persuade China, India and other booming nations to embrace similar restraint. Obsessing over recycling and installing a few special light bulbs won't cut it. We need to be looking at fundamental change in our energy, transportation and agricultural systems. (To continue: Going Green? )

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Climate Change Disaster Looms; Time for Action is Now!

Scientists are by nature a modest and cautions lot. Gravity is still a theory. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last Friday issued their fourth report on climate change and it is probably about as close as scientists come to issuing a panic alert. The report summarizes the three previous reports and issues new dire warnings and for the first time gives a time-frame for taking action. The news is pretty bleak.

The report says that “warming of the Climate system is unequivocal”. It says that there is “a high agreement and much evidence” that with current climate change mitigation policies that global green house gas (GHG) emissions “will continue to grow over the next few decades.” It says that continued GHG at or above the current rate will cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate. The changes include increase in extremes of hot weather and heat waves, increases in tropical cyclone intensity, decrease water resources in now semi-arid areas, increased extinction of species, flooding of low-lying coastal areas, and increased mortality.

Previous reports from the UNIPCC have given only “highly likely” scenarios; this report was less cautious and gave a range of possible consequences of the coming climate change, including complete melting of the ice caps and rising sea levels of 40 feet. If the event that the events rated less than “highly likely” do occur, we are up the creek without a paddle. The longer we wait to do anything, the more likely the “less likely” become.

The report says that we currently have the technologies we need for mitigation. This is not an issue we cannot do anything about. However, the longer we wait to do something, the harder it will be and the more costly. There will come a time when it is too late to do anything about it. The report suggests a return to 2005 rates of GHG emission by the year 2030. The report list several options for addressing mitigation but prominently mentions a carbon tax as a primary mitigation method. (The report at this point is still considered a “draft” but is expected to be adopted. To see the full text of the 23 page report see: IPCC)

Why is this new report being so downplayed? The New York Times reported it under their “Environment” sections. Our local newspaper carried it on page 5. Newspapers want to sell papers, right? Why was this story not bold banner front page headlines? Why is not each presidential candidate at every campaign stop asked what they will do to combat global warming?

This looming disaster is treated is as if we are all on the Titanic, and after telling us the menu for the evening meal and the entertainment, they mention that, “Oh, by the way, we have hit an ice burg and will probably be at the bottom of the ocean in about six hours. Enjoy your dinner.”
Even the movement environmentalists don’t seem to panic. In fact, they often seem more interested in changing human nature than stopping global warming. Look at the lame policy suggestions: change light bulbs, properly inflate your tires, increase CAFE standards, subsidize ethanol and build wind farms. In the last eight years China has build 603 coal-fired power plants. We must do more than change light bulbs. It is if on the Titanic they announce, “To mitigate the hole knocked in our hull by the iceberg, each guest will be given a bailing pail. Enjoy your dinner.”

This is a crisis. The US needs to set GHG emission targets and mandate a carbon tax sufficient to achieve the target. We then need to show world leadership on this issue and use the tools at our disposal to encourage other nations to do their part. It is an embarrassment that the US is tied with China as the worlds leading producer of green house gases and we are doing nothing serious to curtail our GHG emissions.

We can avert this looming disaster. Destruction of the planet by global warming is not inevitable, but time is running out. It is time to take actions now. Don’t strike up the band. I don’t’ want to hear “Nearer my God to Thee.”

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