Learning to Live Under Water

For some time now, a small but vocal group of ostriches — some of whom occupy seats in the United States Senate — have described the phenomenon of global warming as one of the most pernicious hoaxes perpetrated on the American people (as well as other less important occupants of this planet). They say that this liberal conspiracy, whose motives remain hard to figure, has caused fear, regret and a general reassessment of our national lifestyle — which, in the long run, could hurt business, since business as usual, the Cassandras warn, will lead to a further broiling of our planet. 

In 2003, the distinguished Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), memorably proclaimed on the Senate floor that “much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” He went on to explain that Michael Crichton, a best-selling author of fiction, had taught him the truth about why our atmosphere is getting hotter. No mention was made of rampaging dinosaurs.

On February 2 — three days ago — the leading international network of climate scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950. According to the New York Times, the panel said the world was in for centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas and shifting weather patterns — unavoidable results of the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was created by United Nations agencies in 1988, said warming and its harmful consequences could be substantially blunted by prompt action.

The full text is at www.IPCC.ch.

While the report failed to recommend a specific course of action, the ramifications are clear. “In our daily lives we all respond urgently to dangers that are much less likely than climate change to affect the future of our children,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which administers the panel along with the World Meteorological Organization. “February two will be remembered as the date when uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet,” he went on. “The evidence is on the table.”

Well, yes and no.

The Bush administration, which until recently avoided directly accepting that humans were warming the planet in harmful ways, accepted the findings, which had been approved by representatives from the United States and 112 other countries on Thursday night. Administration officials asserted Friday that the United States had played a leading role in studying and combating climate change, in part by an investment of an average of almost $5 billion a year for the past six years in research and tax incentives for new technologies. Nonetheless, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman rejected the idea of unilateral limits on emissions. “We are a small contributor to the overall, when you look at the rest of the world, so its really got to be a global solution,” he said.

Small contributor? The United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other country.

Meanwhile, the honorable James Inhofe, issued a news release headed “Corruption of Science” that rejected the report as “a political document.”

Meanwhile, the Transportation Commissioner of Los Angeles — the guy who’s supposed to encourage millions of residents of Smogville to use public transportation — tools around town in a Hummer.

Meanwhile, we remain collectively addicted to oil.

The tornadoes continue to pummel, the hurricanes keep roaring, and the oceans won’t stop rising. We can wake from our fugue state, or we can start learning to live under water.

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