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Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be our No. 1 priority

Mary Boland
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
What do we really want?
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“Doubt is our product.”

– Tobacco industry memo

Doubt has also been the product of the carbon lobby, consisting of the oil, gas, coal and other greenhouse gas-producing industries. They have been aided by the corpocratic media, which has given equal time and prominence to the vast majority of respected climate scientists on the one hand and the few, less respected deniers who are almost all on the payroll of the carbon lobby.



Thus we have lost over two decades when we could have made good progress toward averting disaster. Now it may well be too late. Climate change is already happening much faster than predicted a decade ago.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. Yet even if they continue only at present levels, by 2100 the Earth will be so hot that vast parts of Africa, Asia and South America will be uninhabitable. The Greenland and polar ice sheets will be gone. Most sea life will be dead as excess carbon will have made the oceans too acidic. Sea level will be up 23 feet or more. And it is very doubtful civilization could survive.



Because of the time lags involved, preventing this catastrophe requires drastic action now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions must start declining by 2015 and fall by 80 percent by 2050 to avoid runaway global warming. Most of the reduction needs to come soon.

Our overall situation is depicted clearly in a new book, “Hot,” by renowned science writer Mark Hertsgaard. If you don’t read anything else this year, read his book.

In the preindustrial era, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). Now it’s already at 390 ppm, well past the 350 ppm limit most climate scientists think is necessary to avoid self-reinforcing feedbacks.

These feedbacks would undoubtedly cause catastrophic climate change. Melting polar ice reflects less light back into space while open water absorbs more heat. Melting permafrost, covering millions of square miles of Russia and Canada, releases vast new quantities of carbon. In fact, permafrost stores twice the amount of carbon now in our atmosphere.

Can we possibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much and as fast as necessary? It is technologically and economically feasible, despite what the carbon lobby says.

But it would require us to put aside all our quarrels and focus on this problem as our No. 1 priority. At present, that looks to be politically impossible. In plain words, it appears that too many of us are too greedy, lazy, and/or foolish for such a task.

We would need to end our wars. We would need to concentrate on implementing all known energy efficiencies and clean energy technologies, requiring high levels of investment and higher taxes. Tight governmental emissions and efficiency regulations would be needed.

We would have to change agriculture. Cattle herds would have to be greatly reduced because cattle emit so much methane. In fact, a huge amount of methane emission reduction is needed because methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effect. Because it only stays in the atmosphere 10 years, killing methane emissions would be a big and immediate help. More no-till agriculture would reduce fuel use.

Surprisingly, there are many low-tech measures that scientists say would be very helpful. These include painting most roofs and paved areas white to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. Rooftop gardens also help. In fact, all backyard gardening rather than fuel-intensive farming would make a significant difference.

We’d probably need to get tough on industrializing nations. We could require they make progress on efficiency and avoiding increases in their emissions if they want to trade with us. And we’d need to offer them financial aid for efficiency and alternative energy programs.

I will be amazed if anything like the necessary measures are implemented in time.

It seems far more likely to me that doubt and denial will rule until catastrophe really strikes – until there is little to eat.

Corn does not reproduce above 95 degrees and already heatwaves are much more common in the cornbelt. Drought and depleted aquifers are increasing in many areas. Extreme weather is tearing up our cropland and infrastructures. Drought and floods have already caused disasters in many parts of the world, such as Australia and Pakistan.

But we go on with business as usual, in effect fiddling while the planet burns.

“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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