Clawing our way to Copenhagen

Ack! Global warming's meat cleaver rends the nation!

Greg Harman

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program released a grand “merge” of years worth of federal global-warming literature, painting as bleak a picture as ever of the future of our planet.

It comes at a perfect time. Business interests championed by the US Chamber of Commerce have launched an all-out assault on proposed federal climate legislation that would push the country in the direction of low-carbon power generation and renewable technologies via the American Clean Energy & Security Act.

The report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (this is a link to the most recent draft, damn feds never called me back with a better link), reminds us that even if lawmakers are able to hurdle conservative Democrats, Big Oil, and heavy industrial polluters, you and I are still in for brutal drought, coastal erosion, and more than our share of misery here in South Texas.

(Tell me how you're planning to enjoy another 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit to top off your best June days.)

Without action, however, the mercury begins to approach the unsurvivable.

I spoke with one of the report's lead authors, Katharine Hayhoe (right), professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University, about warming, skepticism, and the scientific mind this morning.

She reminds that when a medical doctor offers a patient a 50/50 chance of survival, the patient typically opts to take immediate action. Strangely, it's not been so with global warming.

Due to perhaps a willful ignorance of climate science and resistance born from the politicization of global warming, the public is generally concerned but not alarmed.

When international scientists (and, in this case, head-scratchers from 13 federal agencies) call the odds of human-induced warming at greater than 90-percent certainty, a political response just may be called for.

Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian (UK) tacked directly into the political winds Monday while reporting on the report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States:

The Obama administration is poised for its most forceful confrontation with the American public on the sweeping and life-altering consequences of a failure to act on global warming with the release today of a long-awaited scientific report on climate change.

The report, produced by more than 30 scientists at 13 government agencies dealing with climate change, provides the most detailed picture to date of the worst case scenarios of rising sea levels and extreme weather events: floods in lower Manhattan; a quadrupling of heat waves deaths in Chicago; withering on the vineyards of California; the disappearance of wildflowers from the slopes of the Rockies; and the extinction of Alaska's wild polar bears in the next 75 years.

Today's release is part of a carefully crafted strategy by the White House to help build public support for Obama's agenda and boost the prospects of a climate change bill now making its way through Congress.

I talked with some CCSP contributors back when I was conducting interviews for Last Chance for a Slow Dance, my bungled attempt to “inspire” Congressman Henry Gonzalez to fight for the toughest climate measures possible.

In the end, Gonzalez voted for the bill after loading it down with free pollution credits for his pals at CPS Energy. It earned him a lovely “Thank You” advertisement in the San Antonio Express-News from a broad array of environmental clubs. If I were a dues-paying member of any of these groups, this would be the time I'd be asking for those member fees back.

My initial observations of the CCSP? Let's start with the word “primarily.”

Way back in Stone Age of climatology (circa 2007), the International Panel on Climate Change was still suggesting human industry driving global warming was a “greater than 90 percent certainty” sort of thing. The report released this week by a coalition of federal scientists states upfront that global warming is “unequivocal and primarily human induced.”

Will U.S. commitment to fighting global warming come in time for the December gathering in Copenhagen, where the global community must hash out a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol?

A United Nations gathering in Bonn, Germany, failed to make any headway, according to environmental and social justice groups attending.

From The Guardian (UK) (agin):

Green campaigners criticised the failure of the talks to resolve any of the major issues, such as targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Kim Carstensen of WWF said: "We see no political breakthrough. Instead, delegates are just preparing themselves for battles to be fought at later meetings. They set out their positions more clearly, which is helpful, but they don't resolve any of the difficult issues. We're losing time."

De Boer `executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change` admitted that the targets discussed at Bonn were still "far away" from the 25% to 40% cuts by 2020 recommended by scientists. "Between now and Copenhagen, the level of ambition needs to be increased," he said. "This is still possible if the opportunities for international cooperative action are fully seized."


Antonio Hill of Oxfam said: "Poor countries have been left stranded, millions of people face, hunger, disease and disaster but the countries that created the nightmare are refusing to lift a finger to prevent it becoming a reality."

He said rich nations have failed to set an overall target for mid-term emission reductions or put forward concrete proposals on funding.

"Rich country delegates have spent two weeks talking but have done nothing on the issues that really matter. Rich countries may be kidding themselves they are working towards a deal but they are not kidding anyone else."

Joseph Romm at the Energy Collective does a nice job of tying together media critique with the bogus claims of climate-denial camp.

The global warming deniers and their enablers and some in the media want you to believe that scientists are exaggerating the threat â?? which is why conservatives and conservative-leaning independents believe just that.

But that is patently absurd. I don't meet 1 person in 50 who has any idea whatsoever of the incalculable misery â?? Hell and High Water â?? that we are in the process of inflicting on the next 50 generations on our current emissions path.

Hayhoe agreed that scientists have under-sold global warming. She said, however, she has faith that people will do the right thing when their many questions are answered. (I'm generally less patient, but if you are one of those misunderstanding masses desperate for a tutorial, try starting with the CCSP's Climate Literacy.)

Her belief in people may put her in the minority of climate scientists and environmental reporters, but it's a refreshing gust of optimism.

And you can check out Hayhoe's new book, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, now on pre-order on Amazon.