Scientist predict a global warming nightmare, but...
January 30, 2004 | Page 5
ERIC RUDER reports on frightening new predictions about the impact of global warming--and why U.S. rulers are still doing nothing.
IN THE next 50 years, global warming could wipe out a quarter of the animal and plant species currently on the planet. That's the conclusion of a major study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
"The sheer scale of the disaster facing the planet shocked those involved in the research," reported Britain's Guardian newspaper. More than 1 million species could become extinct by 2050 as rising temperatures and other climactic swings destroy various regional habitats and the species that live there.
Scientists from four continents carried out this first complete study of the effect of global warming--the rising temperatures largely produced by the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. Studying six different regions rich in biological diversity, the scientists found that species in flatter areas of the world were most vulnerable because of the impossibility of moving thousands of miles to find cooler temperatures at higher altitudes.
"When scientists set about research, they hope to come up with definite results," says Chris Thomas, a professor of conservation biology at Leeds University and the lead author of the study. "But what we found we wish we had not. It was far, far worse than we thought, and what we have discovered may even be an underestimate."
The study concludes that much of the damage is irreversible due to the massive quantity of greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere. But taking action now to reduce global emissions could avert an even larger crisis.
If the U.S.--which accounts for 25 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases--carried out a large-scale transition toward renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, this would go a long way toward addressing the problems of global warming. What's more, such a massive operation would create a huge number of jobs--when one of the chief complaints about proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is that it would produce layoffs.
But the Bush administration not only doesn't have a sense of urgency about the crisis, it argues that global warming is a far-fetched "theory" dreamed up by tree-huggers and pointy-headed scientific researchers. Any other response would offend some of the Bush administration's dearest friends--in the oil and gas industry.
Corporate executives at some of the country's worst polluters have fought tooth-and-nail against laws requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions--and they've been winning. After breaking a campaign promise to impose mandatory reductions in emissions and withdrawing from the Kyoto treaty on global warming, which had been negotiated by the U.S. and ratified by 158 other countries, Bush introduced a new scheme called "Climate Leaders."
This voluntary program is supposed to "recruit" industrial polluters to come up with ways to control emissions. But only 50 of the thousands of corporate polluters have signed up--and only 14 of those have set reduction goals.
As Xerox Vice President Jack Azar acknowledges, his company's participation in "Climate Leaders" is good, first and foremost, for Xerox. "Energy conservation is good business because it helps us avoid costs," said Azar. "And we're not averse to the publicity, if we can get a couple of nice statements about what we've done."
As the centerpiece of the administration's policy on climate change, "Climate Leaders" is a joke. It has a $1 million budget and a full-time staff of three. Bush wants to spend 1,500 times more on "promoting marriage" than on addressing the threat of global warming to life on the planet!
What's more, the program's target would reduce emissions by just 2 percent from what would be achieved without any program at all. As John Lanchbery, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told the Guardian, "President Bush risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs."
Censoring scientists to please big business
IN JUNE 2003, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came dangerously close to acknowledging the truth about global warming. So the Bush administration sprang into action.
The report concluded that "climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment" and is "likely mostly due to human activities." So before the report was released to the public, the White House changed this language to read:
"The complexity of the earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, document its cause and develop useful projections on how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future."
EPA staffers complained in a confidential memo that the report "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change."
Will the Democrats save the planet?
THE BUSH administration isn't alone when it comes to dragging its feet on addressing pressing environmental issues. In 2003, Democratic senators helped Republicans sink the very moderate Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, which would have capped emissions in the main polluting industries at 2000 levels--and set a target for reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2010.
Many scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced much further--to between 70 and 90 percent of 1990 levels--to have a real impact. Nevertheless, 10 Senate Democrats voted against the legislation, which failed 55 to 43. Two more--including presidential contender John Edwards--made the gutless choice of voting "present."
With the presidential election campaign beginning to heat up, the Democrats' 2000 nominee, Al Gore, has given a series of speeches attacking Bush's record on global environmental issues and calling him a "moral coward." But the Clinton-Gore administration was hardly a zealous protector of the environment--whether the issue was old-growth forests or drinking water quality.
While Bush is justly ridiculed for his decision to delay implementation of Clinton's executive order to lower arsenic levels in drinking water, the truth is that Clinton didn't issue that order until the end of his eight years in office. He even waited to see whether Gore or Bush won the Election 2000 slugfest in Florida before issuing the new rules.
Before he died in 2000, David Brower, who founded the Sierra Club and was later kicked out for being "too radical," blasted the record of these supposed friends of the environment. "Clinton and Gore have done more harm to the environment in eight years than Bush and Reagan did in 12," said Brower.
But how could this be? Because liberal environmental groups that fought Reagan and Bush's anti-environmental measures accepted Clinton's half-measures, foot-dragging and outright betrayals as "political pragmatism."
The incentive for destroying the environment is built into capitalism--a consequence of the blind pursuit of profit on a global scale. If a company thinks that it can save money and beat out its rivals by cutting corners, it does so.
In fact, it must do so--for fear that its rivals will do the same and run it out of business. As a party that caters to the same corporate backers that Republicans do, the Democrats won't fundamentally address the environmental peril that's all around us.
The only way to challenge the polluters and the politicians who run interference for them is to build a movement that brings together environmentalists, workers and other activists who share an interest in safe workplaces, a clean environment and a world where people and the planet come before corporate profits.