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From Rio to Copenhagen

I’m on my way to Copenhagen, 17 and a half years since attending my first meeting on climate change in Rio de Janeiro (June, 1992).  President George H. W. Bush came (briefly) to that meeting, although the U.S. was certainly not a leader in pushing for hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions.  But we did sign the agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Senate ratified our intention to limit emissions (sometime) in the future.   It’s the future now and, unfortunately, prospects have not improved.

To me, the evidence is massive that climate is changing rapidly and that humans are to blame.  Considering the disappearance of Arctic ice and continental glaciers, the warming of earth and sea surface temperatures, the increasing frequency of floods and droughts, and the migration patterns of birds and animals — there can be little doubt that the earth is warming fast.  That this warming coincides with man-made emissions into the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates places humans as the cause.  Besides, we can calculate the warming effect of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and it explains the warming observed.

These multiple lines of evidence point convincingly that our changing climate is a serious problem.  But, still, it’s not possible to see

the “smoking gun” in man’s hand directly causing the effects.  Many people, even on my own faculty, insist that the changes are small, probably naturally occurring, and not a priority for action.  For the first time, I’m resigned to respecting their dissenting opinion and to strategizing how to move on and make progress anyway.  It’s time to show some resolve and to decrease our emissions.

Of course, the rebuttal to the skeptics’ argument is that human-caused emissions will exacerbate and accelerate any natural warming that is occurring.  It makes the case even more compelling to take action now.  It’s a fact (not a theory) that greenhouse gases absorb back-radiation from the earth and trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere.  It’s a fact (not a theory) that our fossil fuel emissions are responsible for the incremental greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

So after seventeen and a half years, I’ve come to the conclusion that (no matter what) we cannot convince everyone that climate change is a problem.  To them, it’s not a high priority for which we should invest precious resources.  But at Copenhagen (and later in the U.S. Senate), we can move forward through leadership of the Obama administration.  We’ve waited long enough.

We can gather a consensus on energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy – actions which save money, create jobs, provide for energy security, and improve public health.  Proof of the wisdom of such actions is everywhere evident in prosperous, sustainable Denmark.  In addition, we must reach out now to poor countries who are disproportionately affected by climate change.  And within the U.S., we must forge a consensus wherever it exists.

I’ve given up hope for U.S. leadership on the global stage.  Now, I just yearn to see some forward progress.  That’s the hope for Copenhagen.  It’s not all that I envisioned in Rio in 1992, but it’s time to get started.

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  • Dec 14th 200910:12
    by Beth Alderman

    I spent a couple of years in Melbourne Australia, where bush fires rage during the summer months. A resident of Mount Buller told me that local voters had no idea of the degree of permanent damage being done, which was one reason they had not approved desalination plants.

    The population as a whole seems to be in massive denial, and at a loss as to how to change. Some countries in Europe seem to have gotten past denial, at least as regards sustainable energy.

    My question is, is there a model bioregion or country providing landmark leadership at this difficult time, and how can we in grass roots America follow their delegation as they offer their expertise and good example in Copenhagen?

    Thanks for your unstinting efforts to break through the collective denial and move on to solutions!

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