The elephant has grown so enormous that it is pressing against all four walls, the floor, and the ceiling of the living room.
All summer we have blasted through high temperature records, drought and fire in the Midwest, and heat waves on the East Coast followed by storms so destructive that they tear up the ozone layer. It’s been predicted for decades: rising temperatures, more rainfall on the coasts, less rainfall inland. Now it’s here and getting worse.
Dr. James Hansen, NASA climate scientist, has compared seasonal temperatures over the past three decades with those from the three decades before that. There was not much change in the temperature from the 1950s through 1970s. But in the 1980s, temperature started to creep up. And it increased more and more in the next two decades. Very high temperatures called “hot anomalies” occurred over just 0.1% to 0.2% of the globe from 1951 to 1981, but over the past several years, they
occurred over 10% of the globe. Dr. Hansen concluded that “the area covered by extreme hot anomalies will continue to increase in coming decades and that even more extreme outliers will occur.”
According to Bill McKibben, of the climate organization 350.org, May 2012 was “the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average.” The odds that that would happen by chance without a warming trend are 3.7 divided by 10 to the 99th power. That’s four chances in a number that is way beyond billions and trillions and quadrillions.
The planet is getting warmer. Scientists tell us this climate change is driven by the emission of heat- trapping carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuel.
It’s too late to stop climate change – the planet has warmed. It’s too late to stop the temperature from increasing: If we stopped using fossil fuel right now, the Earth would continue to heat up because of the carbon dioxide already deposited in the atmosphere. It’s even too late to stop climate change feedback loops, or chain reactions, like the release of heat-trapping methane into the atmosphere, made possible by the melting of Arctic ice.
Still, there must be something we can do rather than languish in a dead calm of inaction amidst all this quantifiable change and the resulting threats, as we’ve been doing, We must cut global carbon dioxide emissions to slow the rise of temperature.
But we may be moving in the wrong direction. Consider the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canada’s tar sands, a fuel that emits carbon dioxide when it is burned, into and across the United States. The tar sands contain about twice the amount of carbon dioxide that has been released over the entire history of oil use. If half the tar sands get used, the human contribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double and global temperature will be driven up even faster than it’s going already. President Obama has delayed until after the election a decision on the permit the pipeline needs to cross the border into the United States. Mitt Romney, on his campaign website, pledges to give Keystone XL the go-ahead.
This is what we can do: make sure the tar sands stay in the ground, and then decrease fossil fuel use. Hansen proposes a plan to tax carbon fuel at the source, with the price increase passed on to the consumer to motivate people to cut their use. Such plans usually evoke cries of a disproportionate burden on the poor, but Hansen’s plan answers that: The tax money collected would be redistributed equally among all Americans (with the exception that minors would get less than adults). People whose lifestyle is extra-energy-dependent would still lose out, but in a way
that’s the point: You gotta change that lifestyle. And of course with all this incentive to stop burning fuel, energy companies’ profits would shrink. That definitely is the point: The big party where one partier – the energy companies – gets to use the common property of all of us – the atmosphere – as its waste dump so it can make profits unprecedented in the history of money, that big party is over.
The great challenge to humanity that climate change is has become obvious. But have you heard anything about it in the presidential campaigns?
President Obama and Governor Romney, tell us what you’re going to do about climate change, the elephant in the living room.