Climate change futility

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Responses to climate change impacts in the United States will almost certainly evolve over time as we learn through experience. Implementing these response strategies will require careful planning and continual feedback on the impacts of policies for government, industry, and society.” –Dr. Anne Waple is with the US Global Change Research Program

If you missed it, President Obama’s administration issued a big report this week on the potential impact of climate change in the U.S. You’d be forgiven if, upon reading it, you’d think the authors used the Bible’s “Book of Revelations” as a style guide, but that’s beside the point I’d like to make here.

First, the report – given the surprisingly bland title of "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” considering the almost hysterical nature of the prose within – outlines the possible direction of climate change under two broad scenarios, according to Dr. Anne Waple: the first projects what might happen if the U.S. focuses on aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the second postulating what happens if we don’t.

The report also details the current impact of climate change already being felt across the U.S. as well as those that will soon emerge or become more intense if action is slow to occur. Some of the impacts that Dr. Waple pointed out in her briefing this week are:

• More rain is already coming in very heavy events, and this is projected to increase across the nation. This would have impacts on transportation, agriculture, water quality, health, among other sectors;

• Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing threats to human health and quality of life, especially in cities;

• Warming will decrease demand for heating energy in winter and increase demand for cooling energy in summer. The latter will increase peak electricity demand in most regions;

• Water resources will be stressed in many regions. For example, snowpack is declining in the West, and there is an increasing probability of drought in the Southwest, while floods and water quality issues are likely to be more of a problem in most regions;

• In coastal communities, sea-level rise and storm surge will increase threats to homes and infrastructure including water, sewer, transportation and communication systems.

Dr. Waple went on to say that effectively managing the nation’s response to a changing climate falls into two general categories:

1. Implementing measures to limit climate change and therefore avoid many of the impacts discussed in the report. These measures must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and might include increasing our reliance on clean energy, and developing energy efficient technologies

2. Reducing our vulnerability and increasing our resilience to ongoing climate change in pro-active, community-based ways. Examples of this include such measures as developing more climate-sensitive building codes to keep people out of harm’s way, or planting more drought or heat tolerant crops, for example.

OK, now, whether you agree with anything in this report or not, it’s my belief that not much is going to be done about it – except for an effort here and there by the federal government to raise taxes. In short, this is an exercise in futility.

Now, why would I say that? It’s simple – and we’ll use the third bullet point above as an example. Climate change is supposedly going to increase demand for heating and air conditioning – thus driving up energy demand. Yet President Obama’s administration is saying that we must reduce our overall energy demand and, further, significantly cut our reliance on coal, petroleum, and even nuclear power for it.

When push comes to shove, though, do you think 400 million Americans are going to willingly turn down the heat and turn off the A/C … or scream for more juice so they can stay warm and cool? We talk a good line about being “green” in this land of ours, but when it comes time to sacrifice, we’re always waiting for someone else to do it.

Here’s the other big problem – we in the U.S. don’t live on our own ecologically isolated island. We share the same water, air, and wind with the rest of the world. So we could become as “green” as conceivably possible … yet find all our efforts cancelled out by the two billion denizens of China that decide being “green” might remove a competitive advantage for them.

Right now, the environmental and safety mandates governing China’s factories and cities can’t even come close to ours – which is why in large measure so much manufacturing has been outsourced to them over the last two decades. And everything they do – or don’t do – is going to impact our climate issues, regardless of what we do or don’t do.

[This is one reason the U.S. refused to sign the Kyoto Protocols back in 2000 – because they severely restricted developed countries yet let nations like China, India, and others continue to pollute with abandon.]

Is this to say that we should NOT attempt to deal with climate change? Hardly. It’s just that we must realize that doing so will require a lot of sacrifice on the part of ALL Americans (especially from the Malibu house set in Hollywood), that it will change the way we live our lives for good … and that if the entire world doesn’t get on the bandwagon, it very well might be all for naught.

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