The debate among scientists has shifted to details. Will there be localized cooling in the North Atlantic? Where will there be droughts and where flooding? How rapidly and how bumpy will the changes be? But the main question for all of society is whether it is too late to do anything. THAT is the new global warming debate. I have two answers to this: we sure had BETTER be able to do something about it and YES, WE CAN!
I have been reading Al Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth. I had already heard him give his slide show on the topic when he delivered it to MoveOn.org a couple of years ago. So I am familiar with most of what is presented in the book. But it has been updated to include more recent phenomena and observations. The most recent data is even more alarming than most people realize. Global warming is not in the future...it is now. It is already happening. It is already a crisis. The question is NOT should we deal with this crisis, but whether we will continue to ignore it and let it become a catastrophe. That is my first answer: we had BETTER be able to do something about it or we are screwed.
Combine our increasing numbers and our increasing industrialization and you have a HUGE impact on the environment. The world's population has essentially doubled during my lifetime. And it keeps increasing. The global human population is at unprecedented levels. Multiply those numbers by increasing energy use globally and you have a huge demand for energy. This has led to a huge usage of carbon-based fuels, leading to a huge increase in emissions. The result of humans cutting down trees for tens of centuries and burning fossil fuel for a couple of centuries has led to a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. I said that the level of human population is at unprecedented levels. I will also say that atmospheric carbon dioxide is at levels unprecedented for the last 400 thousand years. Over that period it never reached above 300 ppm...it has now surpassed that point and shooting towards 400 ppm.
The correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature is EXTREMELY well established over the past 650 thousand years. Look at the graph I link to. The correlation is ASTONISHINGLY close. So, no scientist is surprised that at the time we are experiencing record atmospheric carbon dioxide (and, I should add, record levels of OTHER greenhouse gasses as well) we are also expriencing record temperatures. Something like 21 of the hottest years on record occurred within the last 25 years. That means only 4 years in the past 25 were even close to normal or colder than normal. We are at the warmest point in at least the last 2000 years and probably the warmest point in the last 100,000 years. For human civilization, the average global temperature is at unprecedented levels.
But there are other unprecedented things occurring with the same timing as the unprecedented levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and unprecedented temperatures. Glaciers are receding GLOBALLY (with only small pockets of exceptions) to the smallest level ever recorded in human history. Arctic ice has been rapidly thinning since the 1970's, after remaining largely constant since at least the early 1900's when measurements began. For the first time in known history, a giant ice shelf in the Antarctic broke up. We are seeing record numbers of tropical storms. We are seeing an OBSERVABLE rise in the pH of the oceans, something that is affecting fisheries and coral reefs and algal blooms. Coral reefs are dying off at unprecedented rates. In 1998 alone, the second warmest year on record, 16% of the world's coral reefs died! And we are seeing species extinctions unprecedented since the last mass extinction. Most mass extinctions have major geological or astronomical events at their cause: comet strikes, supervolcanoes, major climate changes, etc. I am aware of only one previous case where living organisms radically changed the makeup of the earth's atmosphere, leading to huge changes in species survival and evolution: the emergence of blue-green bacteria which then produced most of the oxygen in our atmosphere. That event occurred about 3 billion years ago.
So we had BETTER be able to do something about it or the disasters following hurricane Katrina will look minor compared with what America and the world will experience. There is a whole litany of consequences that are predicted to occur and which are ALREADY occurring. Droughts, floods, super-storms, etc. are all happening. Fisheries are dying. Agricultural land is being lost. Tropical diseases are affecting temperate zones. It is all happening and we are STUPID if we don't act.
But what can we do, whines the right wing. What can we do? We can take a leadership role and DO SOMETHING. Bill Clinton pointed out in a recent speech I heard that every industrial nation that embraced the Kyoto protocols had had better economic growth than the US...Bush predicted the opposite. Embracind the Kyoto protocols as an opportunity would help our economy AND the environment. Human action DOES have an effect. Let me give you one example from Al Gore's book. Looking at Antarctic ice cores, you can visibly (as well as chemically) see the effects of rising global pollution. Some pollution from around the world settles in the ice and this is easily measured as well as seen with the naked eye. When the United States, one nation on earth, adopted the Clean Air Act in a bipartisan move, there was a VISIBLE reduction in the pollution deposited a world away in the Antarctic ice. One piece of legislation in the United States had that large of an effect.
George Bush and the Republican party has been telling us our nation and our economy is too weak to take action. He wants to repeal every piece of environmental legislation we have: Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, etc. He has done nothing to reduce pollution, carbon dioxide emissions or our dependence on foreign oil. Bush has done nothing and has told us we are too weak to act.
That is the stupid way to react. We now have a Democratic Congress. Now is our chance to see real action. Talk of wind power is now in the air. Talk of energy independence. New ideas are coming to Washington with these newly elected Congress Critters. But will it be enough to overcome the right wing media, President Bush's veto and the right wing extremists still holding on in Congress?
KEYWORDS: Al Gore, Global Warming, legislation, clean air act, environment
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