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Monday, December 11, 2006

On Global Warming, There's Time to Do the Right Thing

Technorati tags: ; ; ; ; ; ; the good news is that the says we may have more time to deal with

In a report that the anti-science crowd is sure to make a big deal about, the UN will dial back it's assessment of the human contribution to global warming next year. An article in the Sunday Telegraph reports, "Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed, a United Nations report on climate change will claim next year.

"The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent."

Of course, the climate change deniers will glom onto that first paragraph and ignore the qualifying second. It's like having the doctor come back and say the first test was wrong -- instead of having six months to live, you actually have a year -- and concluding that there's nothing wrong with you.

The reason for global warming denial is corporate greed -- dealing with it will cost money. Not dealing with it will cost more, but to a mind that looks ahead only as far as the next quarter, the future is a helluva long way away.

But even the economic reason for global warming denial is faulty. Not only will dealing with global climate change create new technologies and industries, but we've been down this road before. We dealt with ozone depletion by eliminating the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) wherever possible. Not only didn't this kill the economy, it took place during the robust Clinton years. In fact, the economic impact of this was so insignificant that most people don't know that anything changed at all. The financial Chicken-Littles were wrong; the sky, with its damaged ozone layer, didn't fall on our heads.

The UN report means that we may have more time, not that we have all the time in the world. To go back to the doctor analogy, the fact that we're not as sick as we thought doesn't mean we're getting better.

On another front, I wrote a few days back that I haven't seen many people talking about deforestation lately ('Whatever Happened to Deforestation'). Another term that seems to have fallen by the wayside in the global climate discussion is 'environmental justice.' The BBC reports climate change has a human rights perspective.

More attention to human rights is needed in tackling climate change, former Irish President Mary Robinson will say in a lecture.

Her speech at Chatham House, a think-tank in London, will argue that climate change is now an issue of global injustice.

The ex-UN high commissioner for human rights will urge policymakers to adopt "a radically different approach".

She will also urge rich nations to meet their climate change obligations.

"We can no longer think of climate change as an issue where we the rich give charity to the poor to help them cope," she is expected to say.

"Climate change has already begun to affect the fulfilment of human rights and our shared human rights framework entitles and empowers developing countries and impoverished communities to claim protection of these rights."

Of the climate change conference in Nairobi earlier this year, Antonio Hill, Senior Policy Adviser for Oxfam said, "Governments meeting at the UN climate change conference in Nairobi only have to look to a few hundred miles north to see how climate change is having an immediate and devastating effect on people’s lives. The way of life of pastoral communities is under threat . People such as the Turkana are on the front line of the injustice of man-made climate change. They are the least responsible for climate change, but are amongst the worst affected."

In fact, it's the world's poor who will be the first to bear the brunt of climate change, since they have the fewest resources to draw on in adapting to it.

"There is strong evidence of the rich causing the problem, with the poor most adversely affected, and thus it is time that rich countries address their obligations to reduce climate change and mitigate its effects, including those beyond their borders," Mary Robinson said.

A leading UK climate scientist, who spoke to the Telegraph anonymously, told their reporter, "The bottom line is that the climate is still warming while our greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated, so we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future."

In other words, the deniers will say, we're doing just fine. To them, "Good news! We're not as bad off as we thought," is synonymous with, "Good news! There's nothing wrong!"