Hot air and global warming

Saturday, March 26, 2005

BOSTON Every time the world calls for action on climate change, the United States emits more White House gases. The latest puff came from James Connaughton, the director of environmental quality, during last week's conference of 20 nations that met in London to try once again to make global warming a global priority.

At the conference, Gordon Brown, Britain's finance minister, said: "Climate change is a consequence of the buildup of greenhouse gases over the past 200 years in the atmosphere, and virtually all these emissions came from the rich countries. Indeed, we became rich through those emissions." Connaughton's response, in a BBC interview, was, "We're still working on the issue of causation."

Brown said, "We now have sufficient evidence that human-made climate change is the most far-reaching and almost certainly the most threatening of all the environmental challenges facing us." Connaughton's response as to "the extent to which humans are a factor," was, "They may be."

Brown said, "The industrialized countries must take responsibility first in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases." Connaughton complained instead that the Kyoto target for the United States to reduce emissions "was so unreasonable ... that the only way we could have met it was to shift energy-intensive manufacturing to other countries."

Two days after dismissing coalition building, the United States went back to emissions building. The Senate, by a vote of 51-49, finally approved oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On efforts to stop global warming, Connaughton said, "We are trying now to find a portfolio in which three words are important: technology, technology and technology."

He meant drilling, drilling, drilling. Two years ago the National Academies of Science said that even with improved technologies, drilling on the north slope of Alaska has degraded the tundra, altered wildlife patterns and resulted in social problems that blunt claims of unqualified economic progress. Many scientists have said that we would be better off if we simply made our cars more fuel-efficient. But Congress and the White House, imprisoned by the oil and auto lobbies, refuse to use existing technologies to raise efficiency standards.

The Alaska vote paralleled another Senate action to deny an additional $1 billion for Amtrak, when studies show that well-developed rail systems can slash traffic and thus global-warming pollution. The United States, with 4 percent of the world's population, consumes a quarter of the world's oil and produces a quarter of its greenhouse gases. Yet when Brown said that the industrialized countries must take responsibility first, the United States became the most immature adolescent on Earth, doing precisely the opposite of what it needs to do.

Earlier in the month, the former chief scientific adviser to the British government, Lord May of Oxford, bluntly compared George W. Bush to a modern-day Nero. Last fall, Tony Blair said: "If what the science tells about climate change is correct, then unabated it will result in catastrophic consequences for our world. The science almost certainly is correct."

But Nero and his fiddlers won't hear any of that. Asked last month about the science of global warming, Connaughton said, "There are many different views."

The science ceased to have many views years ago. The very first sentence in the executive summary of the 2001 National Academies of Science report on climate change begins, "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities. ..." The report further said, "Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century." The science continues to choke under the White House effect.

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