Michael Stafford, 11/8/2011 [Archive]

Our 'Horrible Legacy'

Our 'Horrible Legacy'

By Michael Stafford

Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change isn't a top priority for many voters this election cycle, and the politicians have noticed. With the notable exception of Jon Huntsman, and, on his better days, Mitt Romney, the entire Republican presidential field denies that climate change is even occurring. Indeed, denial has become part of the conservative ideological creed- a prerequisite for membership in the tribe.Meanwhile, President Obama has done nothing to indicate that reducing emissions and combating climate change are top priorities for him either.

This is a tragedy.Our failure to muster the political will to curb emissions while there's still time condemns future generations to life in a world best described by author Joe Romm as "hell and high water."

The enormity of our failure is highlighted by data recently released by the U.S. Department of Energy.Globally, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have completely failed.Instead, emissions have grown so dramatically over the past several years that they now exceed the worst-case scenarios contemplated in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.In the words of Prof. Granger Morgan, this data is "dismaying... We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren."

The rough contours of Morgan's "horrible legacy" are already apparent.As Steve Zwick at Forbes has observed, "our economy is changing our climate in dangerous ways."

How dangerous?

Globally, we are already witnessing more extreme weather events.This is particularly obvious in Australia, which offers a disturbing preview of what is in store for the rest of the world.It has been ravaged by drought, floods, and fires- all of which are occurring due to changing weather patterns.A warming, and increasingly acidic, ocean is also destroying one of Australia's natural treasures- the Great Barrier Reef.

And we can expect more of the same in the future.As Romm has noted, our failure to reduce carbon emissions will lead to higher temperatures, drought and desertification, more severe storms, sea level rise, and despeciation.

Just how hot will it get?According to Romm, "by century's end, extreme temperatures of up to 122 degrees would threaten most of the central, southern, and western U.S.Even worse, Houston and Washington, DC could experience temperatures exceeding 98 degrees for some 60 days a year. Much of Arizona would be subjected to temperatures of 105 degrees or more for 98 days out of the year — 14 full weeks." Significantly, these projections are not based on the worst-case emissions scenarios.

Moreover, these changes will be long-lasting, cascading far forward into the future.Indeed, according to a 2009 report by NOAA, "changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level [will be] largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years."

What this all means, from a practical standpoint, is that, in the words of an upcoming new report that will be released shortly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, large swaths of the world will become "increasingly marginal places to live," and will remain so for a very long time.

In the face of such difficult, frightening, facts, it is psychologically comforting to retreat into denial and doubt.

However, with the release of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Study confirming previously reported surface temperature data- a study partially funded by the Koch brothers and conducted by Richard Muller, a leading climate skeptic- it is now clear that global warming is real.And although the BEST study is silent as to its causes, we can say, with a great deal of confidence, based on a large body of peer-reviewed literature, that greenhouse gas emissions play a key role in this process.As such, we've reached the point where honest skepticism is becoming untenable.Skepticism, after all, connotes a good faith engagement with reality, intellectual honesty, and openness to the truth that is singularly lacking among the ranks of the deniers.

Is there still time to reduce emissions enough to stop, or at least mitigate, the worst effects of climate change? We'll never know, unless we try.And when I look at my children, I'm convinced the future is worth the effort. Because if we do nothing, then the bleached-white skeletons of the coral in what was once a flourishing paradise along the Great Barrier Reef will be a lasting monument to our narcissism; the barren dead-scape, our perfect legacy.And in that desert of our own creation, those we have condemned will surely curse our memory, and mourn.

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©Copyright 2011 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.



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