Whitley's Journal

Climate Change is Coming Fast, but We Can Fix It--Easily!

Today is August 11, 2003, and it was 96 F in Paris, 93 F in Rome, and this is coming down off record heat that reached as high as 101 in London and 103 in Paris over the last few days.

There are fires burning in eleven European countries, and this morning the Pope offered prayers pleading for relief. Meanwhile, water temperatures off the US eastern seaboard began moving back into the normal range, still with little indication of how or why they suddenly dropped to levels normally seen in April and May.

Earlier this summer, killing heat waves took temperatures in parts of India above 124 F, and the middle east has sweltered for days in weather that, even for that region, is brutally high.

The Southwestern US has been very much a part of the record heat picture, with temperatures in Phoenix breaking records a few weeks ago, and a heat wave scorching north Texas last week.

Meanwhile, the world remains rudderless and leaderless regarding global warming. European leaders, relying on the untested and probably hopeless mandates reached under the Kyoto protocol, wait now in silence for a better day. Meanwhile the Americans remain mired down in ideological squabbles about global warming so absurd that they would be comic-opera hilarious if they weren't so pitiful.

It's worse than Nero fiddling while Rome burned. The US president is fiddling while his fiddle burns. Meanwhile the International Meteorological Organization declared in July that world climate was 'in chaos,' referring to the unprecedented storms, cold and heat waves and bizarre weather that has been endured since 1999. Bangladesh has been drowned, blown over, burned and frozen, all in the same year. 'Hundred year floods' now sweep through flood prone areas with the regularity of runaway freight trains. South Texas, for example, has seen two in the past five years, and they're practically becoming routine in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, satellite maps show fires literally all across the planet, from Portugal to Siberia, from British Columbia to Britain. And then, of course, there's always Africa. This spring out of control fires in the Yucatan turned usually pristine South Texas into something that smelt like the inside of a wet cigarette for about four weeks, the second time that's happened in the past four years--and, in fact, the second time it's happened in living memory.

In living memory, in fact, has become as much of a media cliche as hundred year flood. In fact, just a few days ago a tornado pulverized hundreds of trailer homes in Palm Beach Florida, and even shuddered the shingles on a few actual houses, if only in error. (Why DO tornadoes seem to seek out mobile home parks, anyway? One theory has it that the massed trailers send up columns of hot air that draw the funnel clouds, another that it's an electrostatic effect. But one thing is sure: if a tornado shows up in your area, don't go near the trailer parks.)

Given that it would not be hard to fix this, the lack of leadership is just bizarre. We run the risk of a climate flip occurring literally at any moment, or worse, of a runaway global warming scenario killing vast numbers of people in vulnerable areas almost any summer from now on.

Even more disturbing is the possibility that the combination of the natural warming cycle that we're in and human activity will cause the atmosphere to go into a temperature lock from which it would not recover for years. In that case, it could cut the human population vastly, or even destroy it.

That scenario is not beyond the possible--essentially, that it will warm up so fast that the mechanism of heat balancing, already violent enough, will be overwhelmed and we will not see a sudden snap back to another ice age, but instead warming that continues until greenhouse gasses stop being emitted into the atmosphere.

If that happens, it would mean that the period of ice ages might be over, and that we will have returned to an earthly climate more like it has been over the other ninety percent of the planet's history.

In other words, a climate which would not be viable for a human population even remotely close to what the planet supports now. We would instead enter one of those vast, eventless epochs without polar ice, with muted seasons, and equatorial winters dropping to around 100 F.

Will that happen? Or would we be better off with a superstorm scenario, followed either by another ice age or, what is more likely, a gradual return to some other kind of climate stability?

Obviously, the superstorm scenario seems more livable in the long run, but over the short term it is going to be sheer hell, with the loss of a succession of ten and probably more growing seasons across Europe and significant parts of North America, and hunger becoming commonplace even in the developed world, not to mention the severe short term displacements and death caused by the period of violent weather itself.

It seems reasonably clear at this point that one or the other of these scenarios is already in the process of unfolding. Before we know which one, however, it's going to get much worse.

To see how much worse, let's take a look at what happened around fifteen thousand years ago. First, carbon dioxide began to rise in the atmosphere, just as it is now. The primary engine at that time was thought to be melting permafrost. Now, it's both permafrost and human emissions, and the rate of increase is also somewhat larger.

Then came the methane. For unknown reasons, it poured into the atmosphere. It's a short-lived gas, but while it's around, it plays total hell with atmospheric heat retention. It's a real heat monster.

As a result, arctic temperatures shot through the roof fifteen thousand years ago. Temperatures above the arctic circle climbed, over about a three hundred year period, to 25 degrees above normal. Fresh water from arctic melt gushed into the North Atlantic, the Atlantic Oscillation ceased to be an effective conveyor, and the whole northern hemisphere was plunged into a fearsome winter.

We even know the month it happened. It was June, probably about midmonth. We know this because a fossil apple tree was found some years ago, still in frozen bloom, buried in permafrost. On one terrible day, that tree was frozen solid where it stood--and from that day to this, the frost remained. Over the thousand years it took for the ice to retreat, the deciduous forest marched far above the arctic circle.

Its march ended in a single afternoon, and to this day it has not returned. But, of course, it's on the march again. Everywhere in the north, permafrost and tundra are seeing the appearance of pine saplings, and the deciduous forest is moving north at the rate of about half a mile a year.

So, does that mean that we can sit back, relax and let the next generation do the worrying? It does not. At present, global temperatures are rising much faster than they did in the past, and even faster than the most pessimistic scientists were predicting just a few years ago.

The question therefore has to be asked--is there anything we can do about this? Well, if world leaders are any litmus test, the answer is a resounding 'no.' Europe is silent, America is lost in some kind of bizarre thrall brought on by ranting talk show hosts whose balderdash is, for some peculiar reason, believed by a population that until just a few years ago was perfectly rational. And US leaders are a laugh a minute when it comes to the 'environment.'

Who should we choose to lead us in this area anyway, a president with his head in the sand, or an environmental movement that appears ideologically committed to punishing business for existing and jamming the rest of us into narrow corridors of human activity surrounded by a landscape we can't touch?

In other words, nobody has any answers. And perhaps the reason for that is simple: making needed change is so easy and so economically trivial that it doesn't fit any ideological extreme and is therefore being ignored.

The president could easily start an initiative to make these changes. It should have been started by Bill Clinton, but he couldn't do it because he was too hamstrung by left-wing ideologues bent on using the environment as a means of imposing economic planning. Now George W. Bush can't do it because it would be a direct admission that human pollution DOES affect the weather--an ideological no-no for him. Two presidents, both hidebound, different hides.

You say tomato, I say tomahto, unfortunately, the result is the same and it's extremely serious: no matter how it unfolds, climate change is going to take place in a sea of death.

So, what is this simple change we could make? Well, here are some examples, taken from the one world leader who has adopted the suggestions put forward in Superstorm and made them into an initiative, the Canadian Prime Minister.

On January 15, 2003, Jean Chretien, the Canadian Prime Minister, issued the Canada Challenge. As far as the US media was concerned, it was the Canada non- challenge. The left ignored it because it didn?t involve punishing business. The right ignored it because it involved admitting the truth.

Since the only center remaining in the US is the people, not the media and not the politicians, it was ignored.

Which means that it?s likely to be a damn good idea. And it?s not too late to start. Until the climate change dominoes actually start to fall, and even then, up to a point, it won?t be too late.

But when it is too late, then, it will be too late for thousands of years.

What does it involve? Making a few minor changes to save a whole lot of CO2.

Simple ways to get vast annual CO2 savings:

Replace the 20-year-old fridge with an energy-saver model. CO2 savings = 3,000 pounds.

Send out one fewer 30-gallon bag of garbage per week. CO2 savings = 300 pounds.

Leave the car at home two days per week this year. CO2 savings = 1,590 pounds.

Recycle cans, bottles, plastic, cardboard and newspapers. CO2 savings = 850 pounds.

Switch two standard light bulbs to fluorescents. CO2 savings = 1,000 pounds.

Replace the current shower head with a low-flow model. CO2 savings = 300 pounds.

Turn the thermostat down two degrees for one year. CO2 savings = 500 pounds.

Cut vehicle fuel use by 10 gallons in 2003. CO2 savings = 200 pounds.

Switch from hot to warm or cold water for laundry. CO2 savings = 600 pounds.

Do just those few easy things, and you, personally, emit over FOUR TONS less CO2 over a twelve month period. Add eating meatless meals every other day and parking the car 60 days out of the year, and you save another 3/4ths of a ton, but for many Americans, those would be two big-time lifestyle changes, and they aren?t going to happen, so let?s just forget them, at least for this country.

If fifty million families across the developed world did this, the savings would be two hundred million tons of CO2. Enough to slow global warming down measurably. If two hundred million families did it, the savings would, within a few years, insure that, while the climate naturally continues to warm, runway global warming, and all the suffering and death that will certainly come with it, simply would not happen.

Will the media pick up on this? I doubt it. Will the president? He certainly doesn?t want to see the world go through this hell, so that one?s a maybe. How about the pope?

There?s a real possibility. If he pushed it, the ball might get rolling. He would then be in the position of answering his own prayers. But isn?t that the way God always works, through the hearts and minds of the good?

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