I am certainly not a global warming expert but my recent trip to China (see "Report from Beijing:..." May 29) opened my eyes to the magnitude of the disaster the world faces if we continue to rely on fossil fuels for our energy needs, and continue to ignore the urgent necessity to find other solutions. This "revelation" is, needless to say, not unique to me. But by having seen Al Gores' extraordinary documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" it has crystallized this issue for me in a very personal way.
The potential of apocalyptic danger to planet Earth brought about by climate change is very real. It portends a future not only rife with danger but the makings of a Herculean struggle. There we have deeply vested and enormously powerful and wealthy interests fully committed to smothering further dialogue on the issue and purposefully blind to the ongoing deterioration of the atmosphere as though they and their children were immune to the impact of their actions. That as long as they profited, fine. While the rest of us be damned.
Let me cite an example of the counterattack. Afraid that Gore's documentary might finally prompt the American electorate to demand a more sensible energy policy, these "interests" have revved up their disinformation machine into high gear. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a flack front for oil interests such as ExxonMobil, Texaco among many others who have pumped millions into CEI in recent years -- began airing two 60-second television commercials just before the release of Gore's documentary. Their TV spots claimed that the ice sheets are not melting, but rather are thickening and noted that CO2 is a good thing and essential to life. "They call it pollution. We call it life," reads the tagline.
What the ads failed to mention, however, is that too much CO2 is not a good thing at all, in that it raises global temperatures. And Science magazine, which analyzed a decade's worth of peer-reviewed papers on global warming -- 928, to be exact -- found no dispute that Earth's rising temperatures are a consequence of human activities. The author of the research, upon which the CEI spots were based, felt obliged to take the institute to task, calling the spots "a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate." He said CEI cited parts of his research out of context to support its claims. But then, what can you expect from a group that in some significant measure was organized to propagandize us into believing that the risk of global warming is no greater than the risk of an alien invasion.
For his principled and impassioned stand on the issue of global warming, my respect for Al Gore is considerable, and see him as the foremost champion for a cause whose importance is becoming primordial. He is focused, has an overwhelming grasp of the core statistics, couches his arguments in political and economic terms and of course, clearly articulates the environmental train wreck ahead. Significantly, because he hasn't sold out to Washington's "K Street" lobbyists, he, probably more than anyone in our public life has the wherewithal and the needed fortitude to confront the oil and coal industry and the myriad interests in government, in the private and financial sector, in the press, that are its allies.
But where I part ways with Mr. Gore is in his reluctance to give adequate consideration to nuclear energy. In a recent interview, Gore dismissed nuclear power, saying he doubted it would "play a much larger role than it does now." His main concern against nuclear power revolved around the risk of weapons proliferation, an issue that cannot and must not be dismissed.
But serious discussion, not just lip service, by us on nuclear power is long overdue (Please see my blog "Color Nuclear Energy Green" June 2,2006). New technologies and new perceptions are emerging on this issue. As but one example the Department of Energy, through its Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, is working on a method of stripping out certain elements from nuclear residue, that would, in the words of the government agency, create "proliferation-resistant fuel." More on this and other initiatives in a future posting. I don't doubt that there will be many hurdles to overcome along the way, but given the grave and imminent danger of climate change, and given nuclear's capability to generate vast amounts of power without fossil fuel emissions, not seriously and expeditiously considering nuclear power as a viable alternative carries even greater risks now than ever before. And that is said with a full appreciation of the downside.
In the meantime, Mr. Gore, continue your crusade. President Bush, take a page out of a previous president's moment and "tear down this wall" between Americans on both sides of this issue and get us all working toward the same future. And please, please, Mr. President, go see Al Gore's movie.
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