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Heading for a climate catastrophe
Saturday, February 9, 2013
The 2008 economic collapse has demonstrated how feeble our government is in solving problems. Our proverbial “kick the can down the road” policies have left us with an economic fiscal cliff. Everyone is talking about the economy as if it were the only problem facing our country and the world. What is missing from the conversation is the environmental cliff that, if left to be kicked down the road, will create an environmental disaster that will affect not only economies of the world but our very survival.
It is known that the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, primarily from the use of fossil fuels, traps heat in the form of radiation from the sun. Consequently, the trapped heat increases land temperatures and affects climate changes throughout the world. We have witnessed increases in intensity and frequency of storms, wildfires, droughts, disease spread by insects, etc.
What is so frustrating is that climate change has become a political football, and we have reached a point where we question the integrity of science. People who are deniers don’t question that integrity when they are treated with antibiotics or vaccines that science has developed. They are science deniers only when it has political advantages.
In 2010, governments agreed to curb emissions to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C, but current emissions-reduction targets are on track to lead to a temperature rise of 4 degrees or more by 2100. What does that mean for the environment?
1. Rise in sea levels (up to 22 inches) as ice caps recede. A devastating outcome for coastal cities. River flooding and loss of potable water. Crop failures.
2. Droughts severely affecting parts of Africa, Asia and the Southwest U.S. Agricultural damages unprecedented.
3. Increase in diseases caused by insects as normally cooler areas become warmer.
The 800-pound gorilla in the conversation about climate change is population growth, a subject that gets no attention at various global meetings on climate. Population growth aggravates CO2 emissions, and the link between the two cannot be denied.
Since 1800, world population has grown sevenfold, and each year the population increases by 80 million. Our per capita carbon dioxide emissions have increased 150 times. Put the two together, you have about 1,100 times as much in terms of emissions. How long can the Earth sustain these increases?
The conundrum is that countries with high rates of poverty and population growth contribute relatively little to greenhouse gases. Countries with lower fertility rates are frequently associated with economic development. Developing countries that continue to improve their standards of living also want more fossil fuels to maintain that higher standard. It is no surprise that increases in carbon dioxide emissions will increase over time unless low-income countries follow low-carbon paths of development, i.e. alternatives to fossil fuels.
Despite the obvious problems that policy-makers either don’t recognize or ignore, they continue to seek more fossil fuel-demanding infrastructure such as coal-fired power plants, airports and oversized buildings. In addition, as population increases, natural resources such as freshwater, forests, fisheries and land for growing crops become depleted. These events become exacerbated by climate change.
A 2005 London School of Economics study concluded that if each of us living in a highly developed country reduced our carbon footprint by 40 percent over 40 years, all of that would be canceled by our present population growth rates alone.
Nearly a quarter of a billion women in developing countries are unable to limit family size because of lack of information or misinformation about contraception. In addition, clerics, even here in the U.S., continue to impose their outdated beliefs about family planning and continue to think they are still living in 33 A.D. Sitting on their hands in churches is not an option.
The human species for the past 500 years has exploited and polluted the Earth. We have become so enthralled with the idea of progress (code word for economic expansion) that we have not learned to make do with less. Today, we have about 2 billion people living in dire poverty, and the wealth gap between rich and poor is accelerating. Is that progress?
The author Jared Diamond has suggested cultures fall because they fail to meet the challenges of nature, misuse natural resources and drift blindly beyond the point of no return. Is this to be our fate? Certainly new inventions or praying will not save us. Are we so self-centered that we would allow this catastrophe to be our gift to future generations? Taking any bets?
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