Sunday, June 18, 2006

Global Climate Change

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, writes about global warming here:
Since 1992, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide -- the chief cause of climate change -- have continued to rise more or less at the same rate. Even as the Japanese and the Europeans have pledged to cut their carbon dioxide production, President George W. Bush has blocked all attempts to impose emissions limits in the United States. The administration has gone so far as to oppose the efforts of states, such as California, that are trying to reduce emissions on their own.

To the extent that the administration has offered any explanation for this contradiction -- promising to avert dangerous climate change on the one hand, blocking attempts to curb emissions on the other -- it's to assert that the uncertainties about climate change make action premature. Thanks to the nature of global warming, this ostensibly cautious approach actually amounts to the worst sort of recklessness.

The climate system is highly inertial; it takes several decades for changes already set in motion to become apparent. Scientists probably won't be able to determine just what level of greenhouse gases will trigger, say, the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet until that level has been exceeded.

But as anyone who has ever tried to push a stalled car can attest, systems that are hard to get moving also tend to be hard to stop. Although it sounds reasonable to argue that we ought to wait for certainty before taking action, if we do, effective action almost certainly will become impossible. Once we know for sure that the ice sheet is in danger of disappearing, it will be too late to reverse the process.

In an April 2006 statement on Global Climate Change, the Office of Social Development & World Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states:
In their June 2001 statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the bishops note: “Although debate continues about the extent and impact of this warming, it could be quite serious … Consequently, it seems prudent not only to continue to research and monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.” The statement also calls for a less polarized public debate and more focus on the global common good. The bishops call for thoughtful dialogue that relies on the political virtue of prudence. Prudence is not simply a cautious and safe approach, but rather a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.

Specifically, USCCB supports strong U.S. leadership and advocates for much greater assistance to the developing nations, particularly in providing economic development aid to enable poorer countries to adopt state-of-the-art technology. The centerpiece of USCCB’s efforts on climate change will be to focus attention on the needs of the poor as they will suffer disproportionately from the potential impacts of climate change. The bishops also call for greater emphasis on energy conservation, the development of renewable and clean energy resources, and assistance to industries and workers displaced during the transition to new and more benign energy production.

The entire statement is available here. So, what are you doing to help solve this problem? Writing a letter to your editor, or your Senator or Congress person? Researching the problem on-line? Talking about it with your family and friends?