A plea for an ailing planet

September 19, 2006 by barbara

by barbara

(Click here to read entire post.)

I found it! In spite of my technodoltery, I managed to tune in to the webcast of Al Gore's speech on the climate crisis, presented at New York University Monday. It's very long, but please read all of it. And then read it again.

Gore is not an alarmist. He's a realist, and there's a world of difference between the two. Gore's conclusions are backed up by painstaking documentation and credible research. Facts, in other words. Not opinions. Not political expediency. Facts that affect every Republican, Democrat, Shiite, Sunni, Hutu, Tutsi and unaffiliateds, worldwide.

Over and over again, in talk after talk, Gore stresses that climate crisis is a moral issue, not a political one. This speech focused on solutions. On real things that the United States government and corporations and individuals can and must do to slow the rapid pace of global warming.

It's a heavily weighted topic. There is a natural tendency to want to ignore it, to deny global warming is real, or to hope it will somehow fix itself. Gore (and numerous credible scientists) says we do not have that luxury any more because we are running out of time. I believe him. Some catastrophic melting is already taking place'"documented. If you saw Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, you saw startling evidence of that.

You know, we're having a dickens of a time with this. The best of times, the worst of times.

It's time for us to take the time to get smart about this. I have so much to learn. But I'm increasingly convinced that it's the responsibility and opportunity of the current residents of this planet to turn this around. There likely will not be any second chances.

I know I sound preachy. It's how I get when I'm scared and angry and upset.

We're killing our planet.

It's time for global intervention. By us. Now.

First big step: Get Democrats elected to Congress in 2006. Not negotiable.

Here are some excerpts from Gore's talk. But again, I urge you to read it in full.

Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when their future '" indeed the future of all human civilization '" is hanging in the balance. They deserve better than the spectacle of censorship of the best scientific evidence about the truth of our situation and harassment of honest scientists who are trying to warn us about the looming catastrophe. They deserve better than politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced '" even as the danger bears down on us.

We in the United States of America have a particularly important responsibility, after all, because the world still regards us '" in spite of our recent moral lapses '" as the natural leader of the community of nations. Simply put, in order for the world to respond urgently to the climate crisis, the United States must lead the way. No other nation can. [ . . . ]

So, what would a responsible approach to the climate crisis look like if we had one in America?

Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done when in fact it is not [ . . . ]

A responsible approach to solving this crisis would also involve joining the rest of the global economy in playing by the rules of the world treaty that reduces global warming pollution by authorizing the trading of emissions within a global cap.

At present, the global system for carbon emissions trading is embodied in the Kyoto Treaty. It drives reductions in CO2 and helps many countries that are a part of the treaty to find the most efficient ways to meet their targets for reductions. It is true that not all countries are yet on track to meet their targets, but the first targets don't have to be met until 2008 and the largest and most important reductions typically take longer than the near term in any case.

The absence of the United States from the treaty means that 25% of the world economy is now missing. It is like filling a bucket with a large hole in the bottom. When the United States eventually joins the rest of the world community in making this system operate well, the global market for carbon emissions will become a highly efficient closed system and every corporate board of directors on earth will have a fiduciary duty to manage and reduce CO2 emissions in order to protect shareholder value. [ . . . ]

I look forward to the deep discussion and debate that lies ahead. But there are already some solutions that seem to stand out as particularly promising:

First, dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which we generate, transport and use energy will almost certainly prove to be the single biggest source of sharp reductions in global warming pollution. Because pollution has been systematically ignored in the old rules of America's marketplace, there are lots of relatively easy ways to use new and more efficient options to cheaply eliminate it. [ . . . ]

Small windmills and photovoltaic solar cells distributed widely throughout the electricity grid would sharply reduce CO2 emissions and at the same time increase our energy security. Likewise, widely dispersed ethanol and biodiesel production facilities would shift our transportation fuel stocks to renewable forms of energy while making us less dependent on and vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of expensive crude oil from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Nigeria, all of which are extremely unreliable sources upon which to base our future economic vitality. [ . . . ]

We could further increase the value and efficiency of a distributed energy network by retooling our failing auto giants '" GM and Ford '" to require and assist them in switching to the manufacture of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid vehicles. (NOTE: Rumors were circulating today that General Motors and Ford may be exploring the possibility of merging. Not the first time there have been Big Auto Manufacturer rumors, but in light of Gore's comments, this struck me as a particularly interesting possibility.) [ . . . ]

It is, in other words, time for a national oil change. That is apparent to anyone who has looked at our national dipstick.

Our current ridiculous dependence on oil endangers not only our national security, but also our economic security. Anyone who believes that the international market for oil is a "free market" is seriously deluded. It has many characteristics of a free market, but it is also subject to periodic manipulation by the small group of nations controlling the largest recoverable reserves, sometimes in concert with companies that have great influence over the global production, refining, and distribution network.

It is extremely important for us to be clear among ourselves that these periodic efforts to manipulate price and supply have not one but two objectives. They naturally seek to maximize profits. But even more significantly, they seek to manipulate our political will. Every time we come close to recognizing the wisdom of developing our own independent sources of renewable fuels, they seek to dissipate our sense of urgency and derail our effort to become less dependent. That is what is happening at this very moment. [ . . . ]

Several important building blocks for America's role in solving the climate crisis can be found in new approaches to agriculture. As pointed out by the "25 by 25' movement (aimed at securing 25% of America's power and transportation fuels from agricultural sources by the year 2025) we can revitalize the farm economy by shifting its mission from a focus on food, feed and fiber to a focus on food, feed, fiber, fuel, and ecosystem services. [ . . . ]

Buildings'"both commercial and residential'"represent a larger source of global warming pollution than cars and trucks. But new architecture and design techniques are creating dramatic new opportunities for huge savings in energy use and global warming pollution. As an example of their potential, the American Institute of Architecture and the National Conference of Mayors have endorsed the "2030 Challenge," asking the global architecture and building community to immediately transform building design to require that all new buildings and developments be designed to use one half the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume for each building type, and that all new buildings be carbon neutral by 2030, using zero fossil fuels to operate. [ . . . ]

Many believe that a responsible approach to sharply reducing global warming pollution would involve a significant increase in the use of nuclear power plants as a substitute for coal-fired generators. While I am not opposed to nuclear power and expect to see some modest increased use of nuclear reactors, I doubt that they will play a significant role in most countries as a new source of electricity . . . . [ . . . ]

The most important set of problems by that must be solved in charting solutions for the climate crisis have to do with coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy that produces far more CO2 for each unit of energy output than oil or gas. Yet, coal is found in abundance in the United States, China, and many other places . Because the pollution from the burning of coal is currently excluded from the market calculations of what it costs, coal is presently the cheapest source of abundant energy. And its relative role is growing rapidly day by day. [ . . . ]

For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes '" including those for social security and unemployment compensation '" and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes '" principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution . . . . [ . . . ]

This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. It affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.

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Comments

Barb (not verified) | September 19, 2006 - 8:52pm

hmmmmmm.....
I was eating a bowl of spinach leaves when the national media entered into my family room and announced a recall.
No more spinach across the United States. Farmers are returning their spinach crops to the ground. Can't sell the crop for consumers to satisfy their appetite.
hmmmmmm........
The United States and Somalia are the 2 countries that have failed to sanction the Kyoto Accord. Makes one wonder which one is a First World country and which one is a Third World country.
hmmmmmm......
Go ahead, recall the spinach. One day the polar ice will come calling. No return guarantee.

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MOha (not verified) | April 3, 2009 - 5:22pm

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