Read Eric's bio and previous columns


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 taken.


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 Court.


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. 


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is column # EB034. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause