Blair Horner: The Growing Dangers Of Climate Change
As the brutal election season wraps up, the nation – and the world – received another dire warning of the growing dangers of global warming. While the issue has been almost non-existent in the nation’s political debates, there is no doubt that it is the most important issue facing the world.
The experts convened by the United Nations –known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – argued in their most recent report that failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific body appointed by the world’s governments to advise them on global warming and potential solutions. The panel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its reports on the climate crisis.
The new report, “Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report,” was released on November 1. It’s 175-pages long and provides a synopsis of reports that the panel has issued over the past year. It completes a five-year effort by the panel to analyze and report on the most recent scientific climate research.
It is the fifth report from the panel since 1990, each one stating with greater certainty that the climate is warming and that human activities are the primary cause.
The report declared that “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
The report went on to observe that “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
Appearing at the release of the report, the United Nations secretary general issued an appeal for governmental actions. “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
The report found that climate change is not a distant threat, but is impacting the world today. The report cited mass die-offs of forests, including those in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people.
The report also warned of the impact of climate change on the world’s food supply. It noted that recently agriculture worldwide has become increasingly unstable, with sudden price increases leading to riots and, in a few cases, the collapse of governments.
Unfortunately, not much is happening to address this environmental catastrophe-in-the-making. Due largely to the fossil fuel industry’s aggressive efforts to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific evidence, plus its well-funded political campaigns, governments – particularly in the United States – have failed to tackle this problem.
In fact, the major environmental debate in the 2014 New York elections was over how to increase, not decrease, the mining of fossil fuels, through the controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
The IPCC report urged that the world must find a way to leave the vast majority of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Yet, in New York and across the nation, the debate is over how to extract more, not less, fossil fuels.
And while the burning of natural gas causes less warming problems than dirtier fuels like coal, the extraction of gas is accompanied by the emission of methane. According to the IPCC, methane is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. Thus, the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas are offset by these methane emissions.
The average American voter would know none of this from the election debates raging across the country. Yet for all of us, the failure to debate this issue could have devastating – and in some parts of the world deadly – consequences.
Hopefully, New York’s public officials will show the nation what enlightened environmental policies – relying on alternative fuels and keeping fossil fuels in the ground – should look like.
Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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