Monday, February 05, 2007

Climate Change: We all fiddle while the world burns

By Nancy Jane Moore

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the world Feb. 2 that evidence of global warming is "unequivocal." Their "Summary for Policymakers" (PDF) of their report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, pointed out not only that the change in global climate is due to human activity, but also that even if we make necessary changes now, the human race will still have to deal with the environmental repercussions for centuries to come.

According to The New York Times, the Bush administration said it "embraced" the findings and noted that it had "played a leading role" in climate research. However, The Times also noted that Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman rejected the idea that the U.S. should adopt a national limit on carbon emissions. According to The Times, Bodman said, "We are a small contributor to the overall, when you look at the rest of the world, so it's really got to be a global solution."

In its next paragraph, The Times said:
The United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other country.
The Times clearly thought this was the most important story on Feb. 2. The lead headline on The Times online all day Friday was:
Science Panel Says Global Warming Is 'Unequivocal'
But The Washington Post didn't give it the same play. Its lead story for most of Feb. 2 was the Iraq War. Late in the day, that was topped by "President Reaching Out To House Democrats." Global warming played second fiddle to those stories.

The Times made the right call, but The Post coverage shows just how big a problem there is in dealing with climate change. And once both had covered the IPCC report, climate change issues drew substantially less coverage. The Post did run a story on how the U.S., China, and India -- the world's heaviest polluter coupled with the two most populous nations -- declined to participate in a new environmental body suggested by France.

Global warming is the most important issue facing the world today, but even major newspapers rarely give it adequate attention. They are much more comfortable covering war and politics than in dealing with the crisis that is going to define the 21st Century.

To some extent, this is inevitable. Climate change is a long term problem, but war and politics always provide immediate crises -- breaking news. Both the news business and the human mind respond more quickly to trouble at hand than they do to trouble down the road.

And, in truth, the catastrophic results of the Bush administration's failed invasion of Iraq has created another long term crisis that will affect much of the world. But even chaos in the Middle East pales by comparison to the problems the human race will suffer from climate change, particularly if we don't get a handle on solutions soon.

Meanwhile, the world's two largest energy companies, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, earned record profits in 2006 -- $180 million/day, according to The Times.

The Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out back in January that Exxon is using Big Tobacco's tactics to undercut global warming research.

Incidentally, the UK publication, the Guardian, pointed out on Feb. 2 that the American Enterprise Institute has offered $10,000 to any scientists or economists who can undercut the IPCC report. The Guardian said:
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
It seems that every report we see on climate change shows that the problem is even worse than we thought. But wealthy Big Oil -- with the usual short-sightedness of big business driven by short term profit -- keeps trying to muddy the waters. And the Bush administration -- which is virtually a subsidiary of Big Oil -- keeps making sure the U.S. does nothing to contribute to the solution.

Meanwhile the press -- and the rest of us -- are distracted by the Iraq War, by current politics, and by Bush's campaign to convince us that terrorism is the bigger crisis.

And so we continue doing nothing to address the most important issue facing the world today.

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