Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Planet Purgatory - A Halloween Horror Story:Part I

This week is Halloween, and inspired by Bill Maher ("I'm dressing up as a melting polar ice cap because that's scary,") we're going to take a good hard look at the issue of global warming.

As fires rage in California, and stories about the southeast drought paint the very real possibility of major cities running out of water, the Fort Worth Star Telegram's Don Erler pooh poohs the hysteria of the "zealots" who suggest this might in any way be related to global warming or a preview of worse things to come.

Mr. Erler is not a climatologist, nor a physicist, nor a statistician. He is the president of General Building Maintenance. He is also what Joseph Romm, in his book "Hell and High Water" calls a "denyer."

"The people I call global-warming Delayers and Denyers are also called "climate skeptics" or "contrarians." I think those terms are misused here. All scientists are skeptics. Hence the motto "Take nobody's word." Skeptics can be convinced by the facts; Denyers cannot. Skeptics do not continue repeating arguments that have been discredited. Denyers do.....

The Denyers and Delayers, as I use the terms, are those who aggressively embrace one or both parts of a twofold strategy. First, they deny the strong scientific consensus that the climate change we are witnessing is primarily human-caused and likely to have serious negative impacts if we don't reverse our greenhouse gas emissions trends. Second, they work to delay this country from taking any serious action beyond perhaps investing in new technology.

Taking a page from the playbook of Frank Luntz before his conversion, Republicans like to sound like they are concerned about catastrophic climate change without actually committing to any solutions. This is combined with a strategy culled from the evolution debate that creates enough confusion through misquotes and half truths as to appear to cast doubt on the science of global warming itself.

Erler hits on some key arguments of the Delayers and Denyers that deserve more analysis, so we'll come back to those. In the meantime, guaranteed to keep you up at night, here is a prophetic quote from the introduction of Romm's book that seems particularly apropos.

Imagine if inland United States were 10 [degrees Fahrenheit] hotter, with many states ravaged by mega-droughts and the widespread wildfires that result. At the same time, our coasts were drowning from a 5- to 1-foot increase in sea levels, which were relentlessly climbing 5 to 10 inches a decade or more toward an ultimate sea-level rise of 80 feet.

This "Hell and High Water" scenario is not our certain future, but it is as likely as the bird flu pandemic we are feverishly fighting to fend off. And it could come as soon as the second half of this century, given the many early warning signs of accelerated climate change that scientists have spotted.

Long before then, the temperature of the inland United States will be rising nearly 1 [degree Fahrenheit] per decade, enough to cause continual heat waves and searing droughts. At the same time, sea levels will be rising a few inches every decade, with much of our Atlantic and Gulf coasts battered year after year after year by super-hurricanes with savage storm surges.

Let's call this phase Planetary Purgatory, when the world comes to know that 20-foot sea-level rise is all but inevitable, and we must endure a desperate multidecade ordeal to correct the mistakes of the past, to keep sea-level rise as low and slow as possible - to avoid the full fury of Hell and High water. If the politics of inaction and delay that have triumphed in this country continues for another decade, then Planetary Purgatory is the likely future facing our country before midcentury - probably in your own lifetime.....

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