Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Why is the discussion of climate change so often “off limits”?

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I blogged yesterday an impassioned article from Wen Stephenson that demanded that journalists take on the story of climate change and give it the emphasis that it deserves. (In short, the changing climate will already strongly reduce food supplies—cf. last summer’s drought in the US, and the previous summer’s crop failures in Russia and other parts of Asia—and that the rising oceans will displace millions. Indeed, as global temperatures continue to climb with our unabated production of CO2 released into the atmosphere, it seems likely that civilization if not the existence of humanity is threatened. This is not hyperbole: look at the reports and projections from climatologists, which so far have erred by being too optimistic. That is, climate change is proceeding faster than predicted, and the changes are worse than expected.

Despite the threat, the commentary is muted and the evidence is dismissed. I’m now thinking that this reflects, and perhaps is motivated by, our attitude toward our own individual mortality. You are going to die, as am I, but we don’t spend a lot of time contemplating exactly what that means. We may make a will, execute a medical power of attorney, put our records in order, but we don’t spend time thinking about how our death means that we will lose everything: family, friends, treasured possessions. All that we have learned, all that we have accumulated, will be lost to us, and we to ourselves.

And, truly, there is not much point in dwelling on the inevitable losses: better to enjoy our time in the sun, befriend and help others along the way, for soon enough it will be gone.

But that same attitude—enjoying daily life while we can—does not apply to climate change, for indeed that course can be changed, despite the earnest efforts of the fossil fuel industry to stay on course to wreck the climate. (I wonder whether they believe that the trillions of dollars they hope to accumulate will feed them when there is no food remaining. The dinosaurs died, and so will we, if we don’t change course.)

At any rate, we are now seeing every year more and more weather events that are “once in a century” or “once in a millennium”: extreme weather has become the common experience. But warnings are ignored. It’s very strange to observe.

Bob Grant reports in The Scientist:

In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) issued dire warnings to residents of the Big Apple that they’d be feeling the effects of global warming sooner rather than later. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said NPCC co-chair William Solecki, a geographer at the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College, said in a February 2009 statement announcing the report. “Taking steps now to adapt to these impacts will reduce their potential consequences in the future.”

The panel, which comprised top climate change scientists and academics and was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, calculated that New York City would experience a “1-in-10 year coastal flood about once every 1 to 3 years,” and a “1-in-100 year coastal flood about once every 15 to 35 years.” The flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge topped out at 13 feet in lower Manhattan, a record for the city.

“The climate change projections developed by our expert panel put numbers to what we already know—climate change is real and could have serious consequences for New York if we don’t take action,” said NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the statement announcing the report. “Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after a catastrophe. We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”

A year before the NPCC report came out, Mayor Bloomberg launched the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which was tasked with developing “adaptation strategies to secure the city’s infrastructure from the effects of climate change.”

Earlier this year, the NYC City Council passed a law that made the NPCC and the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force a permanent fixture of the city’s government. “We want to make sure that the work of climate change becomes as much a part of city government as repairing pot holes,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told The New York Times.

One city cannot change the direction we’re going. It has to be a common effort from all. And, so far as I can tell, we’re not going to accomplish it.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 10:07 am

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