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February 11, 2008
Another Year Too Long
to Wait for Action on Global Warming
January tornadoes in Wisconsin. A 50-year snowstorm that
cripples China on the eve of the New Year’s celebration. Extreme spikes
in temperature, both highs and lows.
Are we starting to now
see the impacts of global warming?
The tricky nature of
weather makes that a tricky question, and perhaps the best answer is
that, while a single weather event can’t be specifically tied to global
warming, the pattern of events is consistent with what we’ve been told
to expect thanks to global warming.
It’s a bit early to know
if the worldwide events of freak weather patterns represented a one-year
anomaly or the early onset of global warming. China’s blizzard, after
all, is probably tied to La Nina (although, it’s been argued that it’s
been strengthened by global warming).
The fact that the
question of immediate, direct impact is now before us says that global
warming is a problem worth addressing now. It’s been that way for years,
considering that the scientific debate on whether the phenomenon is real
has been over for a long time.
It’s also a reminder of
the realities of global warming. Skeptics of global warming have long
pointed to improved potentials for agriculture in a warmed world. The
truth is that a warmed world doesn’t translate automatically into a
warmer world, but altered weather patterns.
Warm weather, for the
last couple of winters, has played tricks on plants, prompting some
bulbs to produce shoots earlier than normal, and well before the weather
has reliably warmed to prevent damage or death to the plant. The planet
might be warming in a big picture sense, but its how that translates
into weather than should concern us. A warmer planet might mean longer
agricultural seasons, but that’s not really how things work.
So far, there’s been much
light cast on the issue, but not much heat. In fact, this last week,
General Motors told its dealers to oppose statewide caps on greenhouse
gases on the premise that it would hurt the already faltering auto
industry. That translates into, “We realize that the weather is
important, but selling cars is even more so.”
Action has been stalled,
well, always. The Clinton administration can be forgiven, but only a
little bit, by what was a big lack of understanding how solid the
science behind the issue was. The Bush administration, on the other
hand, has taken active steps to prevent substantial action from being
The reason GM has taken
its fight to the states is that California, tired of stalling at the
federal level, has taken matters into its own hands. And they’ve had to
do so despite the active opposition of the Bush administration, whose
EPA has so far refused to grant California waivers to enforce greenhouse
gas emissions. It’s a fight that the EPA has already lost in the Supreme
Meanwhile, outbreaks of
freak weather continue to raise the point that in many ways all we can
hope to do is mitigate damage rather than prevent it. What’s in the
atmosphere is in the atmosphere, you can’t vacuum carbon dioxide from
the air. (There are, naturally, some who recommend trying instead of
doing the simplest thing, which is to stop putting it there.)
Although the three
contenders left in the presidential race with any reasonable shot of
winning all have embraced policies to mitigate global warming, waiting
another year to actually do something is too long.
All that’s required of
you to know that is to look out the window.
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