Monday, November 28, 2005

No Dodging Responsibility On Global Warming

Thousands of various environmentalist groups and government agencies are meeting this week in Montreal to discuss a global strategy for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions which are exacerbating the global warming crisis.

From RedOrbit:

The U.N. conference, with some 10,000 participants from 180 nations, is considered the most important gathering on climate change since 140 nations ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.


The conference that opens Monday will set new agreements on how much more emissions should be cut after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, though most signatories are already falling far short of their targets.

It's a commendable international effort, even if the Kyoto Accords have yet to demonstrate significant impact. The issue is, at last, being discussed and treated with the seriousness warranted a potential global crisis.

On a more embarrassing note, the current leadership of the world's largest polluter remains unwilling to accept any responsibility for its reckless environmental policies. The Bush Administration remains steadfast in its opposition to any regulation on greenhouse gas emissions, saying it will harm the world's strongest economy. Of course, the Bush Administration has also publicly been very reluctant to even admit that global warming is a fact and has outright refused to accept that mankind is contributing dramatically to the problem. The fact that this view stands in contradiction to nearly every scientist on the planet has not persuaded President Bush to rethink his destructive pro-business-at-all-costs stance on the matter.

From RedOrbit again:

A team of European researchers analyzed tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia and determined there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point during the last 650,000 years.


Today's still rising level of carbon dioxide already is 27 percent higher than its peak during all those millennia, said lead researcher Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

"We are out of that natural range today," he said.

Moreover, that rise is occurring at a speed that "is over a factor of a hundred faster than anything we are seeing in the natural cycles," Stocker added. "It puts the present changes in context."

I understand completely the Republican party's stance on this issue, even if it's a grossly irresponsible one. After all, they are the party of corporate interests and the changes required to curb carbon dioxide and methane emissions are costly. This is typical of the short-term economic thinking of large business interests today. Setting a responsible course of action for the long term is more costly in the short term and is thus avoided. Bush's policies reflect this flawed reasoning, which is all too prevalent in today's business markets.

The part of the equation that I have difficulty grasping is why rank-and-file conservatives buy into the Republican rhetoric on this issue, often going so far as to dream up a sort of global science conspiracy about global warming. Global warming is a fact and the hypothesis that human activity is, at least, making the situation worse, if not being the outright cause, continues to gain scientific support. Sudden climate change can have disastrous effects on the world, particularly poorer areas with more agrarian economies (such as the U.S. Gulf Coast). Erratic weather, flooding, drought, extreme hot and cold spells, more frequent and more powerful storms; the list of possibilities is long and foreboding. Yet many conservatives remain adamant in their stance that global warming is a liberal conspiracy. Why?

The first answer is simple: ignorance, sometimes willful but usually not. Global climate change is an extremely complex area of science and is not something that can be easily reduced to simple political talking points, though there is certainly no shortage of those. Further, admitting that global warming is a fact and that human activity is contributing negatively to the problem really necessitates a change in behavior, which is something with which many conservatives are not comfortable. It's rather difficult to justify driving a gas-guzzling road hog once one admits that driving such is helping wreck the environment.

Another answer, and the one I believe to be correct, is a general antagonism towards science by conservatives in the United States.

From Cervantes:

[I]t is easy to see why [American Conservatism] is likely to be in tension with science. Science is dynamic. Science exists to explore the unknown, to generate new explanations, to overturn established ideas. Scientific discovery drives technological development, which fuels social change, and forces reevaluation of philosophical and religious ideas.

Global warming is forcing the world at large to reconsider the course of human development. It's forcing us to admit that we cannot treat the Earth like an ashtray and hope to maintain a livable habitat for successive generations. We have a growing body of knowledge about the problem and there is no reason that U.S. innovation cannot take take a leadership role in addressing the problem. Refusing to do so for short-term economic reasons is breathtakingly short-sighted and irresponsible, even by Republican standards.

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