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We’re all gonna burn in… (on) Earth!!! May 18, 2007

Posted by Wilz in Environment.
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These days, it feels pointless to talk about climate change – everything there is to be talked about has already been covered – it’s such a hot topic these days. It seems to have hit critical mass thanks in large part (imo) to people like Al Gore. A best-selling movie and an Oscar for a global warming documentary! How do you achieve something like that. I am still a little dazed with disbelief at the amount of effort this man put into bringing awareness to this issue, and the level of success which he has achieved.

Of course, those of us who were willing to use our brains and the basic math we learned in primary school figured out the very bad stuff we’re doing to the environment years ago. I remember talking to friends about the urgency of world problems, and that there are very real possibilities that mankind can destroy itself, only to be silently stared at and thought of as some kind of hype-mongering doomsday soothsayer. (Ok so that line didn’t work out so well.) The author of the now famous “War of the Worlds” story puts it so well :

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. – H. G Wells

The above paragraph reads like a “I told you so” paragraph. However, there is very little to gloat about. International political awareness may have risen about this issue, but locally in Malaysia, awareness is still abysmally low. I organized a couple of events a few months ago to help raise awareness of global warming and its repercussions, and the disappointment was so stinging I literally had to eat ice-cream for a week. Amongst the staff and students of the whole of a university in Cyberjaya, I had about 40 participants max. In Melaka it was reasonably better though – about 75. But lol. 115 out of a population of staff and students exceeding 20 thousand is laughable. And we’re talking about a university here – the pinnacle of thinking, awareness and… oh who am I kidding.

For the brief period of time after the floods in various parts of the country, the papers in a need to relate the floods to something started interviewing climate researchers in our country. For a brief moment, local heroes for climate research like Dr. Fredolin T. Tangang and Faizal Parish had the opportunity to warn us that we have wild weather ahead. Now that the worst is apparently over, the media is generally silent about these issues once again. Until we have to ration water or mount more flood rescue operations of course.

In February this year, the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finally published the first of their reports. Being that this panel is a UN (and thus politically) initiated effort, they were very careful not to include conclusions which seem too drastic in case they make politicians and nations with vested interests in existing world-polluting enterprises unhappy. I have to hand it to them though. Without their effort (part of which I suspect is sitting in rooms debating about which pieces of damning research is too hard for politicians to stomach), there would never have been an ‘official’ (political) consensus that climate change is ‘real’. It takes millions of dollars and years of talking to conclude the following :

  1. Climate change is real.
  2. We (humans) are causing climate change.
  3. We need to do something about climate change.
  4. Urgently.

Like doh! Despite IPCC conclusions and the rise of international public and political awareness of climate change however, in discussions leading to what hopefully becomes the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States is still attempting to mess up declarations recognizing the four points above. In a G8 declaration set to be announced next month, they disagreed to :

“limit the global temperature rise this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as an agreement to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.”

“acknowledge that the U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.”

“underline that tackling climate change is an imperative, not a choice.”

“firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sustain our common basis of living.”

“increase the energy efficiency of our economies so that energy consumption by 2020 will be at least 30 percent lower compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”

Thank God the rest of the world isn’t listening to them. However, being that they are policy makers for the most polluting country on earth, their resistance to address this problem is significant. From Hartford Courant at courant.com :

Philip Clapp, who heads the advocacy group National Environmental Trust and has read the document, said U.S. opposition to the draft declaration could strain the country’s relationship with its allies and jeopardize the world’s ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade.

“The administration is proposing to eliminate any statement that acting on global warming is urgent and all measures that will begin to reduce global warming pollution, including any proposal to improve the energy efficiency of our economy,” Clapp said in an telephone interview. “A continued U.S. refusal to take a lead in combating global warming will set back progress for years.”

And from Bloomberg :

“The U.S. is happy to sign onto endless pages of meaningless verbiage, but they refuse consistently to commit to measurable action,” said Philip Clapp, president of the U.S. National Environmental Trust, in a telephone interview from Washington.

This is simply to ‘acknowledge’ the problem exists, and to do something about it. While all this silly political tug-of-war is going on, we’re getting information that IPCC’s report may not even be warning enough. In their need to produce a statement which is acceptable to international politicians, they have not taken into account possible non-linear climate changes involving the ocean conveyor’s destabilization (watch An Inconvenient Truth for that), evidence that previous predictions were too low and also recent research which demonstrates that climate feedback loops (translation: you mess with the weather, the weather messes with you) are happening years earlier than predicted, giving us reason to believe that global warming with happen at a quicker pace. Here’s an example.

I’m glad though, that public opinion around the world is changing. Sad that it came so late, but glad that it came at last! With more and more research on climate change producing alarming conclusions about the actual rate at which our atmosphere can potentially heat up however, I can’t help feeling a sense of queasy uneasiness. Whatever it is, we are already feeling the impact – I don’t think I’ve ever felt heat this bad, this consistently locally.

Now comes the question of whether all this came soon enough, and whether actionable plans can be rolled out before “damn it’s a hot day” becomes “honey did you close the rubber-sealed concrete cover of our underground cave?” With Bill Clinton and Al Gore on our side, maybe we can.

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Comments»

1. Paul Tan - May 18, 2007

It’s funny how despite all the news being published, many nations still have not really reacted.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6665147.stm
And why is such news like the ocean sink not absorbing more than it has 40 years ago only being reported now?

2. Wilz - May 19, 2007

Actually, many nations has, and a lot of US cities are reacting to the issue despite the lack of a federal policy on the matter. It’s just the US government (read: Bush) right now whose ostrich head is stuck in the piles of money of corporate-polluting-America.

As for the ocean sink, I think you misread. The failure of the carbon sink is happening 40 years ‘ahead of schedule’ – meaning it’s happening 40 years earlier than they predicted. Not 40 years ago.


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