Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Time for Plan B

As I'm sure you know, the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has opened a conference to produce what amounts to an executive summary of its work. Most people don't know that the term "executive summary" refers to a summary of a study intended to guide action - hence "executive" as in "execute," to carry out. That's what this report is intended to accomplish -- to provide policymakers with a basis for action.

Alexander Cockburn, the increasingly bizarre Nation columnist, is convinced that global warming is a hoax engineered by the nuclear power industry. How Bechtel and General Dynamics managed to suborn 1,500 scientists in a wide range of disciplines from more than 100 countries, with nobody blowing the whistle, is not clear to me and Cockburn isn't saying. In any case, even if the scientists are making the whole thing up, whether to collect their secret payments from the nuke builders or to get themselves bigger and better grants, the report is going to be heavily diluted and toned down by political pressure from a few countries -- notably the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia -- that don't want any interference with our God-given right to burn fossil fuels.

I'm afraid I have some bad news: it doesn't much matter because it's too late, much too late, to avoid major effects of anthropogenic carbon release. You can screw compact fluourescents into every light socket on earth, get every commuter from LA to Shanghai into car pools, bring every last soldier, marine, sailor and airman home from Iraq and put the entire $100 billion a year into building wind farms, and it will barely make a difference. It's coming -- and probably bigger and faster than anybody was predicting five years ago. Sure, let's do what we can to cut down on using fossil fuels - it's equally important because we're going to run out some day, and because it doesn't make sense for the U.S. to be trying to conquer the world just to assure access to supplies.

But, as far as climate change is concerned, we need to be preparing to deal with it, not deluding ourselves into believing that we can stop it. The terms of debate need to shift, radically, and very soon.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is holding a mass prayer meeting tomorrow to ask God to send rain. He says that rain is plan A, plan B, and plan C. In other words, there is no plan whatsoever for the day when Atlantans open their faucets and no water comes out. Maybe the Governor's prayers will be answered and that won't happen any time soon, or maybe it will happen in a couple of months. Think about it -- nobody in Atlanta will be able to bathe, flush a toilet, wash clothing, wash dishes, cook a meal. And nobody is doing one single damn thing to plan for that day, a day that very well might come before the Atlanta Falcons end their season. But Sonny is no crazier than the rest of us -- he is a perfect representative of the whole damn world.

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