The waiting game

There’s a growing mound of evidence that my previous comments about the need for concern over energy use and global warming have been too optimistic. The 30 April 2009 issue of Nature has several articles, under the heading: The Coming Climate Crunch, that make the scientific case for a higher level of teeth gnashing. Its editorial Time to Act begins with the statement:

“Without a solid commitment from the world’s leaders, innovative ways to combat climate change are likely to come to nothing. It is not too late yet — but we may be very close.”

The rest of the climate-oriented reports in that issue contain a mixture of bad and maybe not so bad news. At the current rates, as determined by a variety of analyses, the earth is warming even faster than the upper-limit scenarios of a few months ago. As we collectively increase our mining of carbon for later release into the atmosphere as CO2 we will accelerate our race toward the day when we reach the point where catastrophic climate changes are upon us.

To avoid that fate there are some possible alternatives. These include development of thousands, even millions of scrubbers to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and geoengineering schemes to increase the earth’s albedo or block incoming solar rays. The problem is that none of these options are beyond the lab test phase. Even if the lab tests are successful, getting from there to thousands of operating installations is likely a matter of decades.

Clearly, business as usual is not an option if we want to avoid roasting ourselves, our kids, and any generations that survive after them. So, with that as background, guess what our global leaders are doing about it.

On average they’re saying: “Wait until we’re sure.”

Wait until when, exactly? 2050? 2100? When will they decide to act? Either of those dates is way too late if the scientific evidence so far is even close to correct. The US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee just passed a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program that aims to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050. In the US. IF the bill gets through the rest of the House and the Senate and is turned into law unaltered. Since the US is at present the world’s largest polluter in terms of CO2 production, that would be a big boost in the right direction. Still, environmentalists argue that it’s not enough in either quantity, timing, or enforceability.

Furthermore, China is rapidly approaching the US level of outpouring, thanks to its burgeoning number of coal-fired power plants and its expanding car craze. Then there’s the rest of the world as well. Europe is ahead of the US in facing this problem but India and Brazil may be even behind China in their ability to put on the brakes. So we all have a long way to go and very little time to go there.

The waiting game is no longer an option. To do your own bit, increase your frequency of teleworking today. Tomorrow at the latest. Importune your local legislators.

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