The climate crisis not a hoax

Negotiators from around the world met in Copenhagen, Denmark last week to hammer out an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol, which sought to reduce worldwide carbon emissions, never ended up being ratified by the United States, which is partly why it did not succeed in preventing the climate crisis from getting worse.

Meanwhile, the research that supports the consensus reached by scientists continues to get stronger, despite new and unfounded accusations by climate deniers that scientists are conspiring to fool everybody (based on e-mails stolen from a research center).

The World Meteorological Organization has just released an analysis showing that the last decade appears to be the warmest one in the modern record. The findings were made public just hours before President Barack Obama and our own governor, Chris Gregoire left for Copenhagen.

The growing body of evidence that demonstrates that global warming is real and that humans are the cause has not placated critics who are determined to thwart mounting angst for change. The evidence, by the way, isn’t locked up in laboratories or universities. It’s all around us. All we need to do is get out and take a look.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been collecting climate data since long before anyone hypothesized that there was a climate crisis. We now have a photographic record that goes back decades. Photos showing retreating glaciers paint a stark and grim picture of what is going to happen to the Pacific Northwest if we don’t act.

People who claim the climate crisis is a hoax are wrong, pure and simple. The crisis is, as Al Gore has argued, an inconvenient truth. It doesn’t fit neatly within the worldview of people who are obsessed with preserving the status quo: burning as usual!

But let’s indulge the skeptics for a moment. We already know what happens if they’re wrong: catastrophe. Rising oceans that displace over a billion people. Changing climate patterns that shift fertile agricultural ground to new regions. Insect infestations, like the pine beetle infestation, that wiped out ecosystems. Locally, the loss of our snowpack that feeds our rivers and provides electricity, irrigation, and recreation.

But let’s imagine that the skeptics are correct and our planet’s fever is nothing to worry about. What’s the worst that could happen if we ignore them and take action to solve the climate crisis? We’d have energy independence. Cleaner water. And cleaner air. Gee, come to think of it, that’s a pretty good deal. All three of those outcomes are economically advantageous. Turning to renewable energy alternatives frees us from the grip of finite fossil fuels, which consequently means we don’t need bases in the Middle East to protect our access to oil (or in D.C. parlance, “vital national security interests.”)

Ditching dirty fossil fuels will also reduce smog, acid rain, and toxic runoff. It will decrease health care costs because there will be fewer cancer-causing carcinogens in the environment. It will protect ecosystems that are threatened by mining and drilling activity, from our ocean basins to our mountaintops. It will prevent repeats of manmade disasters like the Exxon Valdez spill.

All of these benefits save us money in addition to safeguarding our planet for future generations. Think about all the money we currently spend to deal with the effects of our messy energy use.

We Americans are so focused on short-term profit — instant gratification — that we fail to appreciate long-term consequences. (A solar system, for example, may cost more to install than a furnance that consumes natural gas, but once it is in place, it produces free electricity. Wouldn’t it be great if our homes all had solar heating installed? It is possible!)

We are all too often creatures of habit. We have created this petroleum-based, artificial world that is not sustainable. Now that we are aware of the ramifications of our energy use, we face a choice. We can continue to thoughtlessly squander our natural resources — disrupting the health of our planet in the process — or we can change our ways. The latter is the only moral and defensible choice.

Let’s hope that spirit prevails at Copenhagen and leads us to the trailhead of a path forward that will take us out of the industrial age and into a new era of conservation and sustainability.

Longtime Eastside resident Andrew Villeneuve is the founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute. Reach him at andrew@nwprogressive.org.


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