Candidates avoid serious work on climate change | PostIndependent.com

Candidates avoid serious work on climate change

Mary Boland
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
What do we really want?
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This presidential campaign is both idiotic and obscenely over-financed.

I am disappointed that President Obama has not been as strong as I think he could have been in overcoming Republican and conservative Democratic resistance to his efforts to deal intelligently with our economic problems.

But Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to have any understanding of the real nature of our economic problems, much less any intelligent solutions. And he has the nerve to talk about overturning the Affordable Care Act, when the fact is that he promoted and approved the same kind of plan when he was Massachusetts governor.

He also claims he can create jobs when he never did before, either at Bain or as a state governor. Well, the man has no shame.

Both sides, however, should be deeply ashamed of their failure to provide any leadership in regard to our greatest and most immediate threat, namely catastrophic climate change.

Leading climate change activists are beginning to mumble among themselves that it may already be too late to prevent disastrous warming. But publicly, they try to keep up the good fight. Bill McKibben’s latest effort is an article in “Rolling Stone” explaining some really scary numbers.

Endorsing the scientific consensus of the time, 167 nations responsible for 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions signed on to the 2009 Copenhagen accord to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to prevent catastrophe. Then they did essentially nothing to achieve that limit.

Already we have raised the average temperature of the planet 0.8 degrees Celsius, and many computer models show that even if we stop increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere now, temperatures will rise another 0.8 degrees. So, in fact, we have already hit 1.6 degrees of warming, four-fifths of the way to the 2 degree limit.

And even the current 0.8 degree increase has already caused so much more damage than scientists expected that these same scientists are now saying the 2 degree limit is far too lenient.

A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and the atmosphere over the oceans is 5 percent wetter. The latter heralds worse storms and more flooding, and is caused by the fact that warm air holds more water vapor.

NASA scientist James Hansen now warns, “The target … for 2 degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”

While a few countries, including Germany and Sweden, have made great efforts to reduce emissions, and even the U.S. has taken some steps toward energy efficiency, these have been offset elsewhere. The fact is that our worldwide carbon emissions keep growing by 3 percent per year. This trend portends a temperature increase of about 6 degrees Celsius or 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

As Bill McKibben puts it, our current trend toward 11 degrees Fahrenheit will “create a planet straight out of science fiction.”

But the number McKibben considers scariest of all is 2,795 gigatons. That’s the amount of carbon in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel producers – the fossil fuel we’re already planning to burn. This is calculated to be five times the amount of carbon dioxide we can add to the atmosphere by mid-century and still hope to meet the 2 degree limit.

Of course the fossil fuel producers don’t want us to think about any of these figures. Because the realization that we simply cannot allow them to burn all their reserves in the near future leads to the conclusion that these companies are not worth their current high stock prices.

That is why the fossil fuel industry is throwing huge sums of money into the Romney campaign. And one has to conclude it is fear of this kind of financial power that keeps the Obama campaign relatively quiet on energy issues. It may also be that Obama and others still don’t really get the message.

Absent the influence of this fossil fuel industry money, McKibben thinks we might be able to find the will to seriously cut carbon emissions. He cites a recent poll indicating that two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement to cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050.

– “What Do We Really Want?” appears on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Mary Boland is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother, and a longtime resident of Carbondale. Follow her on twitter@grannyboland.


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