Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not really the end of the world

While it is true that only a few people are convinced that the apocalypse will occur on a specific, known date, it is tragically also true that there are a lot of people -- I don't specifically remember the polling on this and maybe somebody can come up with a number, but it's close to half of Americans -- believe that it will happen sometime soon, they just can't say exactly when.

You may be old enough to remember that Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, believed that, and said so publicly. He said that environmental conservation was pointless because the environment wasn't going to be around much longer anyway. Yes, that really happened. And maybe that's one reason among several that the looming catastrophe of climate change is largely ignored.

The failure of the Doha climate conference ought to be the top headline in every media outlet. It was buried in a small item inside the NYT this morning and is basically nowhere to be seen on the web sites of the major news networks. But the Reuters story (linked above) gets it right.

At the end of another lavishly-funded U.N. conference that yielded no progress on curbing greenhouse emissions, many of those most concerned about climate change are close to despair. . . .

The conference held in Qatar - the country that produces the largest per-capita volume of greenhouse gases in the world - agreed to extend the emissions-limiting Kyoto Protocol, which would have run out within weeks. But Canada, Russia and Japan - where the protocol was signed 15 years ago - all abandoned the agreement. The United States never ratified it in the first place, and it excludes developing countries where emissions are growing most quickly.

Delegates flew home from Doha without securing a single new pledge to cut pollution from a major emitter. . . . A series of reports released during the Doha talks said the world faced the prospect of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2F) of warming, rather than the 2 degree (3.6F) limit that nations adopted in 2010 as a maximum to avoid dangerous changes. According to the World Bank, that would mean food and water shortages, habitats wiped out, coastal communities wrecked by rising seas, deserts spreading, and droughts both more frequent and severe. Most impact would be borne by the world's poorest.

No, this is not the end of the world. It's not the end times. The universe will go on. But it will be hard times indeed, harder than we have ever known, and that includes World War II and the Dark Ages. Wake the fuck up.

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