Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The bottom line: Krugman on "Betraying the Planet"

Over at the New Mobility Agenda we hooked the timetable of our transportation reform program to climate issues at the beginning of this decade. And when President Clinton in announcing the creation of the Clinton Climate Initiative on 1 August 2006, warned "We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 80% over the next 10 to 15 years," well we took his words to heart.

Now three years later, how do we look? The 5% to 8% annual reactions necessary to meet that timetable? Oh dear no. We have to the contrary continued to generate ever greater amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants than ever, and at accelerating rates. So what do we do? Just forget about it? Well, let's clear the decks today and have a look at what Paul Krugman wrote on this score in today's International Herald Tribune.

From the International Herald Tribune of 30 June 2009 * (Fair use - see below)

By Paul Krugman

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn't it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

= = = END = = =

It may seem strange but the bottom line, the real urgency for transportation system reform in and around our cities that we presently have to face, does not come from the more than 1 million people killed on our roads and streets each year; nor the 50 million or so who are injured in traffic; nor from the fact that in nine cases out of 10 every year it takes you longer and cost you more wherever it is you want to go, whether you are in your own car or not; nor from all the costs and uncertainties being faced as a result of uncertainties and escalation of petroleum and resource costs; and not even from the fact that our present no-choice transportation system is not serving very well the majority of people in our communities who are too young or old to drive, too poor to own and operate a car, too unfit for reasons of physical or mental orientation to drive , or who simply choose not to own and drive a car. But no, at the end of the day the real bottom line is the fact that our present transportation arrangements are crushing our planet at a rate which makes fundamental reform in all sectors our highest political and economic priority.

You have heard all that before? You continue to harbor doubts about the veracity of the claims being made in scientific circles about the extent of the damage and its future cost? Well let me suggest that you run for political office and that you vote against any form of climate control legislation. You will not be alone.

The editor, World Streets


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Source and fair use: This article originally appeared in the New York Times of 30 June 2009. You can view their original article here. And click here to view World Street's policy on Fair Use. Comments welcome.

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  1. Robin Chase, Cambridge MA USATuesday, 30 June, 2009

    They are predicting a 9.3 degree temperature rise this century under business-as-usual, up from 4 degrees under old predictions


    When I read Krugman's oped yesterday, which was about the shame the 212 who didn't sign the Waxman-Markey bill are entitled to, I feel cognitive dissonance.

    With a 9 degree temperature rise predicted, we should ALL be shamed for inaction. I'm feel very frustrated with every day people, with politicians, with lobbyists, and with the President. I want to shake them: "Are you paying attention?!"

    How, how, how to motivate action?

    Robin Chase, Cambridge MA USA

  2. Thanks to Paul Krugman, Eric Britton and Robin Chase for creating this discussion here.
    What are the key facts we need to communicate?
    1. How many people know what a 4-degree rise in average temperature will mean for the planet, life, and suffering? (And how often do we talk about it?)
    2. How many people know what -- leading -- role road transport has in creating climate change? (And how often do we talk about it?)
    Politics may require simplicity of communication. I am not sure what the key facts to communicate are. I am proposing that people's efforts to talk in understandable ways will make a difference.


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