Global Warming: Invest Now or Pay Later
By Andy Kerr
Column #27 - Go to next column
Length: 751 words
Published: 31 July 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain
In our democracy the President rarely leads, but mostly follows the people. This is usually a good thing. Only in times of acute crisis, can a President articulate the problem, define the solutions, and move the nation to expeditiously solve it.
We are in a crisis which threatens much that is dear. It is not unlike 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt knew that Adolph Hitler must be stopped, but most Americans were in denial. Bill Clinton knows that we must end human-caused climate change—also known as global warming—or the world faces catastrophe. Again, denial.
What is global warming? Simply, it is the warming of the Earth's atmosphere due to increased amounts of carbon dioxide and other so-called "greenhouse" gases. These gases in the upper atmosphere act like greenhouse glass by holding in heat from the sun's rays. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased 30%.
What happens as the atmosphere warms? Glaciers melt, sea levels rise, winters get warmer, summers get hotter, hurricanes get worse, desert spread, the tropics expand, mosquito-borne diseases increase, etc.
Oregon State University scientist and American Academy for the Advancement of Science Chair Jane Lubchenco recently briefed Clinton. She was joined by other eminent colleagues, including three Nobel Prize winners. Lubchenco noted that a scientific consensus predicts a warming of 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit during the next century. Lubchenco gave some examples of what will happen if this occurs: Vermont's colorful sugar maples die out, the glaciers in Glacier National Park melt by 2030, and one third of the Florida Everglades will be lost.
Scientists in the Pacific Northwest predict warmer winters and hotter summers, resulting in depleted water resources.
Some scientists say that global warming is a myth or isn't proven. "We often see [climate change science] portrayed as a kind of ping-pong match," notes Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth. "But you have 2,500 scientists ... on one side of the ping-pong table and seven scientists on the other side." Charitably, these few dissenting scientists are sincere contrarians and unanimity of opinion is rarely achieved on any subject. Realistically, they aren't climatologists, but climositutes who will say what their clients want them to say.
Some still say tobacco doesn't kill, either because they believe it, it's in their financial interest to say so, or they are insane. In any case, they are wrong.
The head of Ford Motor Co. states that the auto industry will seek to counteract the President's education effort by employing "equally eminent" scientists (sic) to present "our version of the science." Most of the auto industry is following the effective example of the tobacco industry: deny, deny, deny in the face of all evidence. (Toyota, however, has announced production of a hybrid gasoline/electric vehicle which will emit 50% the CO2 and 10% of other pollutants—and it will get 60 miles per gallon.)
These lies work, because gasoline is at least as addicting as tobacco.
The President seeks to convince Americans of the need to act now. Climate change, while occurring rapidly in Earth time, is occurring very slowly in human time. Our personal experience tells us that the weather varies. How do we know we are not just in a hot cycle? Because scientists have analyzed the data of centuries and have factored out weather cycles.
"The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases," Lubchenco said. We represent 4% of the world's population but contribute 22 percent of the carbon. We need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels; we need a greater investment in alternative energy sources; we need some of the market-based approaches that the economists are talking about. And the sooner we begin these changes the better," Lubchenco said in The Oregonian.
But won't reducing our oil dependence will cost us money? Hell, yes!; in the short-run. In the long run, we'll have a more efficient economy notes Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) by moving from a hydrocarbon to a carbohydrate economy.
Anything we get from a hydrocarbon (oil) can be had from a carbohydrate (plants) with less pollution. If we grew our carbon, rather than pumped it from the ground, the plants naturally recycle it out of the atmosphere.
We have technologies ready to go that can reduce our energy consumption by 75% with no decrease in the quality of life. In contrast, our quality of life is sure to decrease if we don't slow, and reverse, global warming. Now.