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Global warming and heads in the sand

Alan Braunholtz

The National Atmospheric and Space Administration rates 2005 as matching the hottest year on record, the EL Nino year of 1998. NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ([NOAA) and the UK Meteorological Office all agree that 2005 is the northern hemisphere’s hottest year on record. Global warming continues with the predicted extreme weather events (droughts, floods, storms, heat waves etc) arriving in record numbers, too.Arctic sea ice declines at 10 percent per decade; it’s now at its lowest level ever recorded by satellite. A regional rise of 3&C causes three separate glaciers on Greenland’s ice sheet to empty into the sea at twice the expected rate as melt water pours down their crevasses to lubricate their flow. Glaciologists reckon that 3&C of warming is the point at which Greenland’s ice sheet is toast. It’s the second-largest ice sheet in the world, and it’s melting will raise sea levels by six meters over the next century or two – not mentioning the effect this freshwater will have on polar salinity which drives the ocean currents.Now all the skeptics will be uttering their usual “here they go again, doom and gloom Cassandras wailing on about the world’s future.” Apart from the fact that Cassandra’s prediction of Troy’s destruction turned out to be right, this is an illogical – though unfortunately effective – argument.Strange that you can turn consistent advocacy against a position. Consistency is normally a sign of reliable evidence. It’s a virtue, not a weakness, and the evidence for global warming only gets more accurate as the arguments against it waffle around. Consistency may be dull, but climate change isn’t entertainment. It’s been seven centuries since the round-earth theory thrilled and chilled the flat-earth lot who no doubt said “here they go again telling us you can sail in a straight line and end up here” – but now it’s mundane and true.The evidence for human-driven climate change is strong enough that the Bush Administration has to muzzle its own scientists to justify their head-in-the-sand approach. NASA’s climatologist James Hansen accused its politically appointed public affairs officer David Deutsch of silencing scientists who didn’t follow the party line. Mr. Deutsch has since resigned after being caught fudging his resume. At NOAA, the agency that focuses on climate research, political officials “unapologetically” censor scientists according to Jerry Mahlman, a director of one of their labs who quit in protest.Skeptics argue that evidence of past variations likely due to the solar cycles means we needn’t worry about manmade climate change. This overlooks that the last 40 years of exceptional warming covers the whole northern hemisphere, unlike past regional variations in the last 1,200 years. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his role of governor of California, has seen enough reports and talked to enough governments, people and experts to say: “The debate is over. We know the science and we see the threat. The time for action is now.” He’s started California on a path to change with policies to increase efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases and asking people to change their behaviors, which is never easy.First you have to accept the need, and our federal government is in denial. We’re addicted to a past where we built our economy on cheap energy. It’s all they know, so they can’t plan for a future with conservation, fuel efficiency, alternative energy sources and the effects of global warming. Bush cuts energy efficiency programs out of the budget, instead showering the oil industry with subsidies and exemptions to environmental rules hoping they’ll resurrect the days of unlimited cheap energy for him. They can’t, it’s more and more a myth as global demand rises and we pass peak oil production – perhaps as early as 2010.We should be encouraging efficiency and conservation. The history of technology is one of substitution and we’ll replace our inefficient systems with something better. Why not actively walk that way.Ninety-five percent of the energy used to power the light in your home is wasted. Almost all the gas in your car goes to moving the weight of the car, not you. We have the engineering now to reduce a car’s weight and increase engine efficiency. Cars could get 100 mpg with some trade-offs in size but not safety. That’d make gas look pretty cheap, not to mention the side benefits of a livable planet.Few in either party have the courage to stand up to Detroit’s manufacturers and unions and raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE.) There’s a bill to raise CAFE from 25 mpg to 40 mpg by 2016. It’s sure to be rejected. This bill would save us four million barrels of oil per day – more than we import from the Gulf and could extract from the Arctic Refuge and California’s outer shelf combined. Want to reduce our involvement in the current insanity of Middle Eastern politics and cultures? This is one way. Instead we get a raise from 21.6 to 22.2 mpg for light trucks, SUVs etc by 2007.Arnold Schwarzenegger applies a John F. Kennedy quote to global warming. “In the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.”Unless you’re a certain type of economist it seems.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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