Saturday, February 3, 2007

Embracing reality . . . At last!

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman yesterday stated that the Bush Administration no longer doubts humanity's contribution to global warming. Speaking of the IPPC's report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, he said: "We're very pleased with it. We're embracing it. We agree with it". He continued with the acknowledgement that "Human activity is contributing to changes in our Earth's climate and that issue is no longer up for debate." This is good news. However, it turns out that the new approach of the Administration is really an old canard. It is the same one used when refusing to sign to the Kyoto Protocols. To wit, the new spin is that, while conceding human activity is contributing to global warming, the U.S. contribution to the problem is minimal. This willfully ignorant position is demonstrated by Bodman's comment, when referring to greenhouse gas emissions, that: "We are a small contributor when you look at the rest of the world". With a straight face, he followed this with the almost jaw-droppingly bold statement that "It's really got to be a global discussion".

Is it true that we are a small contributor when it comes to emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? By all accounts, the United States, with around 5% of the world's population, is responsible for one-quarter of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide and uses one-quarter of the world's crude oil. So, while Bodman is correct that there has to be a global discussion, it is also time for action, even unilateral action, which, on other issues, is this Administration's favorite kind of action. Besides, there was a global discussion. It took place in Kyoto, Japan. The discussion resulted in a treaty, which this Adminstration, skeptical at the time of the impact human activity was making on the environment, declined sign, or even to discuss again when the other signatory countries offered to renegotiate those parts of the treaty about which the U.S. expressed concern.

In other comments, Bodman seemed to privilege the U.S. economy over the habitat we all share and on which we depend, an issue taken up in my first post on the matter, Stewardship, not devastation. He took the opportunity to reiterate the administration's opposition to mandatory caps on the emission of carbon dioxide, the release of which into the atmosphere is a by-product of coal-fired power plants and petroleum-fueled vehicles, as well as from other sources. Now, don't get me wrong, industry needs to be included in our national discussion about how to reduce emissions, but there is no way around mandatory limits that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reduce them rapidly. We need to introduce these caps in a way that creates the least drag on the economy. We must keep in mind that one of the key conclusions of the report is that, even if we eliminated green house gas emissions immediately, the effects of the amounts we have already expelled into the atmosphere will continue for a century and beyond, resulting in increased global temperatures, scarcity of fresh water, rising ocean levels, severe weather, etc.

It seems a given that the increase in the number of violent storm, like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita from last year and events, like the tornado that killed 19 people in Central Florida early yesterday morning, are the result of rising ocean temperatures, caused by climate change, in turn, brought about by human activity.

All my data for this post was derived from Reuters, specifically an article co-written by Deborah Zabarenko and Chris Baltimore.

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