Sunday, January 29, 2006

climate tipping?

Concern by scientists that we are approaching the point of no return on climate change makes the front page of the Post today. It is the usual depressing read, not just on how bad climate change could be, but on the utterly irresponsible, head-in-the-sand delayed reaction of the de facto Big Oil Bush Administration.

For example, Bush's science adviser John Marburger helpfully notes that "There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change. We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."

"Things like this" could include 20-foot rises in sea level that would submerge entire island nations and, closer to home, lower Manhattan and 1/3 of the state of Florida. "Things like this" could include the shut-down of the Gulf Stream, which could perversely make northern Europe much colder even as the planet warms up overall. "Things like this" could include the collapse of the Amazonian rain forest and the melting of the Russian tundra, both of which will contribute to HIGHER levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "Things like this" includes hurricanes of increasing number and power hitting the US, as we saw in 2005.

Even scarier than events like Katrina becoming routine is the idea that "things like this" could include rapid changes in weather patterns that could severely disrupt agriculture -- which means it could severely disrupt the ability of all of us to eat regularly.

So, when Dr. James Hansen, NASA's director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies wants to talk to the press about climate change and how 2005 was the warmest year ever, the Administration's knee-jerk reaction is to try to shut him up. I've heard stories about senior Administration science professionals being banned by politicos from attending (just sitting in the audience!) conferences on climate change. This Administration's response to what is likely to be the biggest news on the planet Earth EVER is to try to shut people up.

Marburger and others are promoting technological innovation to reduce emissions. That's fine -- innovation can play a role. But at the same time we need to take IMMEDIATE steps to cut back on emissions. Hiking the taxes on gas and coal for example will immediately reinforce public and private research into alternative energy sources.

Yes it could be a pain economically -- but the alternative is worse.

It's so ironic that we have the worst man in the worst position at this critical time. A man who was ready to go to war in Iraq based on unsubstantiated claims that Saddam posed some level of threat to the US is not ready to go to war against climate change despite the very real signs that such change is already happening, and despite the clear evidence that such climate change poses a huge risk to the US -- a bigger risk than an Iraqi or Iranian nuclear bomb would pose.

How long do we wait until we decide we have enough information? Until we have the climatological equivalent of a mushroom cloud over us?

(addendum) The Times also covers efforts to shut Hansen up...