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Aiko Stevenson

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The Climate of Truth

Posted: 08/06/2012 4:48 pm

"Here is the truth." In the words of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore: "The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack America on 9/11; Elvis is dead; and the climate crisis is real."

For anyone who doubts the last part, take a look at the recent string of extreme weather in the US.

The first five months of 2012 were the hottest in history, ushering in a summer of terrifying wildfires, scorching heat waves, devastating droughts and an almighty windstorm called a 'derecho.'

The country is now parched by it's worst drought in half a century.

Crops have withered, condemning not only this year's corn crop, but the possibility of next year's too. And, according to the latest map, the drought is intensifying, pushing cereal prices up to record highs.

As the world's largest cereal exporter, the U.S. is critical to the stability of global food supplies.

But, with the extreme weather expected to continue, many now fear not only a recession, but a repeat of the 2008 food crisis which sparked riots in some 30 nations across the globe. Some analysts believe that it was higher food prices that unleashed last year's Arab Spring.

"The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage than most people realize - replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability," says Lester Brown from the Earth Policy Institute. In the words of Tony Vyn from Purdue University: "We're moving from a crisis to a horror story."

But, this is what the early stages of global warming looks like. Not only is "the climate crisis" very much "real", this is only the beginning.

So far, world temperatures have risen by around 0.8 degrees Celsius. Three years ago, world leaders agreed that a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise was an acceptable "upper limit." But, "If what we're seeing today is caused by 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much" says Thomas Lovejoy, former adviser to the World Bank.

Sadly, we may breach that "upper limit" in less than two decades time. According to a recent report, the average person in China now has the same carbon footprint as someone living in Europe. Given this unprecedented rise in global carbon dioxide emissions, the International Energy Agency now thinks that the planet may warm by 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

"Must the sea boil, New York flood and the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into taking concerted action?" asks John Vidal in the Guardian.

Six years ago, Sir David King, the UK's former head scientist warned that climate change is "the most severe problem we are facing today. It's more serious than the threat of terrorism." It has since fallen down the political agenda as fears about the economy continue to eclipse concerns about the environment.

But, we can't eat money, and as one U.S. conservationist notes: "Mother Nature doesn't do bailouts."

Until we radically rein in our carbon emissions by using less fossil fuels worldwide, the specter of a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise will eventually become a harrowing reality. And, as Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, points out, "we are all beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuels."

But, with oil prices projected to hit the $200 mark by the end of this decade, hydrocarbons are no longer that cheap, especially in light of the $1 trillion it costs to subsidize this sector every single year.

According to economist Lord Nicholas Stern, if we slashed those subsidies and plowed them into the renewable energy sector instead, we could transition to a cleaner and safer world, whilst creating millions of new decent jobs. Green energy already accounts for 16 percent of all electricity worldwide. And, with fewer climate change related disasters, we would save hundreds of billions of dollars per annum.

So, if fossil fuels no longer make economic nor environmental sense, why aren't we beginning to phase them out? According to a recent poll, nearly two thirds of Americans would support an international deal to curb CO2 emissions.

In the words of Al Gore, it's because governments are "controlled lock, stock and barrel by the oil and coal industries."

"Expecting governments funded by this class to protect the biosphere is like asking a lion to live off gazpacho," says George Monbiot from the Guardian. But, according to Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union: "We have a choice whether we want to be held hostage by the current mix of economic and political interests."

As British politician Zac Goldsmith points out, it's up to us, "the electorate", to make our leaders act: "For doing the right thing, they will be rewarded, for doing the wrong thing, they will be sacked." In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: "Go out and make me do it."

In spite of Rio's recent failure, Al Gore believes that "the only way to address the climate crisis will be with a global agreement" and "the U.S. is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future."

But, given the enormity of the problem, "it will take every mother, every father and every child," for as Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption points out, "we'll be growing up in war. Not a war between civilizations, but a war for civilization."

In the words of Mikhail Gorbachev: "In the face of every great challenge, there is always a choice. The future is not predetermined." But, with a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise sitting on our collective horizon, we must make the right choice, for the fate of our planet hangs in the balance, and history will not forgive us.

 

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