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Cher Gilmore: It’s up to us to act on global warming

Posted: December 12, 2012 9:39 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2012 9:39 p.m.
 

The failure of the latest Doha climate talks — which our President didn’t even attend and whose efforts the U.S. consistently blocked — clearly shows that we cannot count on our government to take the lead in stopping global warming. This, in spite of the fact that the U.S. is second only to China in annual CO2 emissions, and we know without question that global warming is real, deadly, and human-caused.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program — which includes scientists at NASA, EPA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the State Department, the Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, Commerce, and Interior — has said global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced. Our National Academy of Sciences, along with academies in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, has said the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable. Ninety-eight percent of climate scientists agree.

Bill McKibben, the author of a dozen books about the environment and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has reduced the harsh truth about climate change to three numbers:

  • 2 degrees Celsius – the amount, according to international consensus, that we can raise the global average temperature above pre-industrial levels and still have a livable planet. So far, we’ve raised the average temperature just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and we’ve lost a third of the summer sea ice in the Arctic, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and we’re seeing more and more disasters like floods, drought, wildfires and hurricanes. Some scientists say 2 degrees is too much.
  • 565 gigatons. This is the amount of carbon dioxide humans can put into the atmosphere by 2050 and stay below 2 degrees Celsius, according to scientists.
    But because previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere, even if we stopped increasing carbon dioxide now, the temperature would still rise about another 0.8 degrees, taking us three-quarters of the way to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • 2,795 gigatons. This is the amount of carbon in the coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil fuel companies, which they’re currently planning to burn. This is close to five times higher than the amount we can burn and still keep the planet more or less safe for human habitation. We must keep those reserves in the ground if we want to survive.

Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s chief economist, says: “New data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close. When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.”  That, says McKibben, would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

Why are obscenely rich fossil-fuel companies given government subsidies to continue polluting the planet, rather than asking them to pay for the damage they’re doing to our environment? Do we really want to reward the companies whose activities are making the world increasingly unlivable for millions of people?

Can we afford to continue with business as usual, when here it means:

  • Rising food prices as more frequent and severe droughts cause crop shortages
  • More heat strokes, respiratory illness, and mosquito-borne diseases caused by the effects of global warming and fossil fuel emissions
  • Diminishing water supplies as our water sources dry up
  • Greater chance of devastating wildfires like the recent blazes in Colorado and New Mexico.
  • Economists on both ends of the political spectrum contend that the most effective approach to deal with climate change is a tax on carbon-based fuels that returns the proceeds to the public, either through direct rebates or reductions in other taxes. A direct tax on carbon would make clean energy a more attractive investment, and billions of dollars in private sector money would shift toward clean technologies like wind, solar, geothermal and other alternatives.

Recent polling found that nearly two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement that cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050. Isn’t it time for us as citizens to speak up and demand a public policy that reduces carbon, so our children and grandchildren are guaranteed a safe planet on which to live and grow?
A Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (www.CitizensClimateLobby.org) is now forming to help create the political will, and public policy, for a stable climate. Its work is nonpartisan, non-confrontational, and effective. Contact chergilmore@sbcglobal.net, 661-251-1718.

Cher Gilmore is a Friendly Valley resident.

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