by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 8, 2014
CAN THE WORLD SAVE ITSELF FROM CLIMATE DISRUPTION?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Dealing with the twin crises of economic failure and environmental failure should keep humanity's hands full for the foreseeable future.
But which is more likely to happen first? Building an economic system that delivers social and economic justice, or coming up with real solutions to deal with the looming disaster that is climate disruption?
My bet is on the latter, because if nothing is done about climate change, you can forget about having any sort of economy, let alone an equitable and just one.
The National Climate Assessment (NCA), just released on May 6, is unambiguous about what we face. According to the lead author, climate scientist Don Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, "there is no question our climate is changing. It is is changing at [a pace of] a factor or 10 times more than naturally."
This report, the U.S. equivalent of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), is 1,300 pages long and was assembled by 300 leading scientists and experts. Like the IPCC reports, it is emphatic that climate change is already happening and affecting every region in the country.
Here in New England, we've seen more torrential rainfall and flash flooding. We've seen heat-loving invasive species take hold in our forests. We've seen more heat waves in the summer and shorter winters, as well as weather extremes that go beyond the usual unpredictable and extreme weather that our part of the world is known for.
In the West, we're seeing epic droughts and wildfires. In the South and Midwest, we're seeing tornadoes and thunderstorms that are bigger and more severe, and happening at times when those types of storms don't normally happen. Along the Eastern Seaboard, recent hurricane seasons have seen storms of unprecedented size.
"I just hope that we convince as many people as possible that they live in a dynamic climate, that the old normal is broken and [that] we have no idea what the new normal is going to look like when all of this is done," said Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University who has been a leader of the NCA advisory committee since 2010.
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industries don't want people to understand that climate change is here, is real, is caused by our indiscriminate use of fossil fuel, and that it will destroy our planet if left unchecked.
The good news is that while humans have caused climate change, humans can minimize its impact if the world commits to burning less fossil fuel and turns to renewable energy.
The IPCC reported a few weeks ago that transforming the global economy in this way would have a minimal impact - a reduction of about 0.06 percent off the expected rate of economic growth of 1.3 percent to 3 percent. It also found that the longer we wait to make the transformation, the more it will cost.
Considering that technologies such as solar energy have gotten cheaper and more efficient by the year, the smart money is now on renewables. That's because nearly all the easy oil and coal has been extracted and used. All that's left is the difficult sources - such as the tar sands oil of Canada, or the fracked shake oil andf gas in the Dakotas - that are expensive to extract and have an even-greater impact on the environment.
Changing a dominant paradigm is never easy, but the cheap fossil fuel fiesta is nearing a close. If we want to maintain some semblance of the civilization we've grown accustomed to, we have to rethink the way we do everything.
It seems impossible, given the amount of ignorance and confusion sown by the climate change deniers and the powerful forces that bankroll them. But it has to be done, or else we're done for as a species.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.