What Is Al Gore Saying?
We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change
I Ain't Going Nowhere
It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.
Ok, so the whole thing about glaciers melting away was a complete and total fabrication and laughable on its face, but every other terrible calamity I've been predicting is really true - honest.
Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy — the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.
The instability caused by our dependence on oil from Muslim countries has nothing to do with our blind support of Israel and the advances China is making in the manufacturing of equipment to satisfy Western nations' desire for alternative energy sources has nothing to do with our devotion to free-trade, which is killing all of our manufacturing work - it's all because of climate-change deniers.
But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands.
Nor would they one day curse us for failing to grow our economies during the 21st century in pursuit of globally enforced limits on fuel consumption.
I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change...It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate
But all other predictions are completely flawless and guaranteed to be correct.
In addition, e-mail messages stolen [your "whistle-blower" is my "thief"] from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands [like "could you please provide us your data"] from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law [which as we all know was only supposed to be used against right-wing governments and evil corporations, not beknighted scientists in noble pursuit of left-wing causes].
But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes [and as long as we don't comply with disruptive FOIA requests we needn't worry about them being discovered by trouble-makers]. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged [and that the overwhelming consensus is what I say it is]. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea [because the estimates of how fast these glaciers are melting are completely accurate].
Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.
Just look at this past January - everyone thought it was colder than normal but it really was much warmer than normal - see how terrible global warming is?
Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.
It's like the economy. People keep claiming that the U.S. economy shrank over the last 2 years, but this is clearly a lie - the United States is still the richest country in the world!
The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.
Contrary to popular belief, the heavy snowfall in the U.S. (and, though I'm loathe to mention it, across Europe as well) is actually another sign of global warming because, frankly, every unusual weather event can be attributed to global warming. Or it must be ignored because it's just weather. So keep that in mind - the weather outside is either just random weather unrelated to long term trends or it confirms global warming - it can never though be an argument against global warming.
Here is what scientists have found is happening to our climate: man-made global-warming pollution traps heat from the sun and increases atmospheric temperatures. These pollutants — especially carbon dioxide — have been increasing rapidly with the growth in the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and forests, and temperatures have increased over the same period [ "cough" but only by about 1 degree "cough"]. Almost all of the ice-covered regions of the Earth are melting [again - ignore that little Himalayan glacier mixup] — and seas are rising "cough" by like a couple millimeters "cough"]. Hurricanes are predicted to grow stronger and more destructive, though their number is expected to decrease [true, at first we said there would be more hurricanes, but that's just silly now that we see #'s of hurricanes have significantly decreased in recent years, but there were a couple Cat 5's a couple years ago, so we'll go with "less but worse" because who's to say otherwise?]. Droughts are getting longer and deeper in many mid-continent regions [God knows droughts have never happened before in history], even as the severity of flooding increases [floods are new too - and our knack for development right smack in the middle of historic flood plains has nothing to do with the growing severity of flooding]. The seasonal predictability of rainfall and temperatures is being disrupted, posing serious threats to agriculture [which is why we need more and more farmland these days to grow less and less food]. The rate of species extinction is accelerating to dangerous levels [which has nothing to do with over-development and over-population].
Though there have been impressive efforts by many business leaders [looking to avoid nuisance lawsuits and other nasty threats from environmentalists] , hundreds of millions of individuals and families throughout the world [I counted them myself] and many national [Ok, well Western European, anyway}, regional [can you say "Blue States"?] and local can you say "Berkeley"?] governments, our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them. [Of course we're failing at a lot of things - Western Civilization appears to be running out of steam - maybe it's time we just plain gave up and throw in the towel and give up entirely on the concept of economic growth.]
And in spite of [because of] President Obama’s [inept] efforts at the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December [to bribe the Third World with $100b], global leaders failed to muster anything more than a decision to “take note” of an intention to act [i.e., they laughed in his face].
Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution.
China, Russia, India and Brazil couldn't care less about the issue - and they're not going to do a thing unless we do something first - they're no fools. Of course Brazil isn't exactly doing nothing - they're more than happy to clear-cut their rainforests to grow their own biofuel crops which are cheaper than importing oil, and China is busy developing altenative fuel technologies to sell back to us as they are with every other manufacturing industry thanks to "free-trade" so we can be dependent on them for our energy instead of Saudi Arabia.
The political paralysis that is now so painfully evident in Washington has thus far prevented action by the Senate — not only on climate and energy legislation, but also on health care reform, financial regulatory reform and a host of other pressing issues. [And people claim that climate change is just another left-wing cause!]
This comes with painful costs. China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution, had privately signaled early last year that if the United States passed meaningful legislation, it would join in serious efforts to produce an effective treaty. When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed.
The U.S. probably has the least to fear from climate change of any nation, and China has lots of coal that it might not want to give up on just yet. So you'd think the rest of the world, worried about impeding doom, would be begging us to take the lead. Instead, they just seem to be using the West's obsession with global warming as a tool to extort money from us - funny.
Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.
I've got lots of skin in this game - don't screw it up on me!
But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.
On the other hand, as to the likelihood of corrupt Third World oligarchs using cap-and-trade as their own personal multi-millioin dollar retirement plans - don't ask!
Second, we should have no illusions about the difficulty and the time needed to convince the rest of the world to adopt a completely new approach. The lags in the global climate system, including the buildup of heat in the oceans from which it is slowly reintroduced into the atmosphere, means that we can create conditions that make large and destructive consequences inevitable long before their awful manifestations become apparent: the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases.
You'd think that with the certainty of such a dire outcome no one would need a lot of convincing - but that's the funny thing about global warming - those with the most to lose show no urgency, while those of us least likely to suffer are desperate to act. Of course, the best way to cut down on the numbers of displaced climate refugees would be to have less people, but population control is so 1970's, and I'd rather see hundreds of millions of people drowning in rising seas than make any proposal that smacks of that nasty eugenics stuff.
[A few paragraphs of philosophizing about the post-Cold War world economic order, not all of which is completely inane].
Over the years, as the science has become clearer and clearer, some industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation — just as tobacco companies blocked constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart.
Democracy sucks sometimes.
Simultaneously, changes in America’s political system — including the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication — conferred powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms. Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment. [And Free Speech really sucks!] And as in times past, that has proved to be a potent drug in the veins of the body politic. Their most consistent theme is to label as “socialist” any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace.[Property rights really, really suck.]
From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. [Because this has worked so well so many times before, like when...ummm...oh I'm sure there must be some example...] After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis — inconvenient as ever — must still be faced. And for reasons not entirely clear, it must be faced by the U.S., right now.
The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.
Great leaps in technology, of the kind required to eliminate fossil fuels, are always the result of massive government regulatory regimes. The steam engine resulted from a tax on shovels; the locomotive from a tax on wagon trains; the automobile from a cap-and-trade market for horse manure; the airplane from air-rights restrictions on hot-air balloons; the transistor from tariffs on glass usd to make vacuum tubes.
Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation. I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.
I'm certain that industry won't game the cap-and-trade system and end up promoting the least efficient and destructive forms of non-fossil fuel energy. Ethanol-from-corn, anyone?
We have overcome existential threats before. Winston Churchill is widely quoted as having said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required.” Now is that time. Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so — or must replace them.
Faced with the prospect of a world-threatening fascist menace in both hemispheres, we rose to the challenge and, with massive amounts of money, figured out how to split the atom! Oops - I'd rather not bring that one up. This is all about being green, not actually cutting down on fossil fuels per se.