Don't Ignore 'An Inconvenient Truth'
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Human activity is polluting the earth and if we fail to take action now, our planet could be sent "into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves."
But some of the damage is already done. The Arctic ice shelf is melting, polar bears are drowning, and severe weather occurrences like hurricanes and heat waves are taking thousands of lives and causing millions in damages each year.
In the face of strong scientific consensus on the dangers and sources of global warming, many members of the Bush administration and the right wing continue to insist it is all part of a harmless natural process.
On Wednesday President Bush said, "[L]et's quit the debate about whether greenhouse gases are caused by mankind or by natural causes; let's just focus on technologies that deal with the issue." But an effective solution will not be found without acknowledging the human role in greenhouse gas emissions.
"An Inconvenient Truth," former Vice President Al Gore's new documentary that opened on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles, challenges these myths and provides striking evidence that "[h]umanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb."
Climate change is here
Nineteen of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980, with 2005 marking the warmest yet. But proof of global warming goes beyond higher temperatures. In the far north, Inuit hunters have fallen through ice, and villages have lost ground to swelling seas. In the tropics, deluged islanders are making plans for permanent evacuation. Seas worldwide have risen four to eight inches in the last century; Massachusetts alone has lost 65 acres a year. Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places such as the Colombia Andes, which is 7,000 feet above sea level.
Scientists are considering creating an official Category 6 for hurricanes "as evidence mounts that hurricanes around the world have sharply worsened over the past 30 years -- and all but a handful of hurricane experts now agree this worsening bears the fingerprints of man-made global warming."
A study published in Science Magazine analyzed 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003. Not a single one challenged the scientific consensus that the earth's temperature is rising due to human activity. In 2005, a top group of scientists convened by British Prime Minster Tony Blair met and examined the catastrophic impacts of global average temperature increases. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program, an intergovernmental agency, also concluded that humans are driving the warming trend through greenhouse gas emissions, noting "the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone alone."
It will get worse
Global warming is bad news for human life, despite the myths repeated by the right wing. "When it's not even clear that the warming we've seen is hurting us -- many argue that it's a boon, citing its benefits to agriculture and its potential to make severe climates more hospitable," writes National Review associate editor Jason Lee Steorts. But global warming won't just raise the earth's temperature a few degrees. The reality will be, as Gore puts it, " what someone has called 'a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. '"
We "have seen the impact of a couple of hundred thousand refugees from an environmental crisis. Imagine 100 million or 200 million," said Gore Wednesday on NBC's Today Show, talking about how many people could be displaced if global warming continues at its current pace. Assuming that it does, an increase in heat waves and a deterioration in air quality "will increase the risk of mortality and morbidity, principally in older age groups and the urban poor," according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Increases "in climate extremes (storms, floods, cyclones, etc.) associated with climate change would cause physical damage, population displacement, and adverse effects on food production, freshwater availability and quality, and would increase the risks of infectious disease epidemics, particularly in developing countries" and "negative health impacts are anticipated to outweigh positive health impacts." American Progress President and CEO John Podesta also notes the effect global warming will have on the world's poor: "Between 260 and 320 million people are likely to find themselves living in malaria infested areas by 2080," and in "Southern Africa and parts of the Horn, rainfall is predicted to decline by 10 percent by 2050, worsening already serious food shortages."
The administration is ignoring it
President Bush will be ignoring "An Inconvenient Truth" when the movie opens in the nation's capital, just as he has ignored the inconvenient truth of global warming throughout his administration. In 2000, candidate Bush pledged to "establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide." That promise was short-lived. One year later, Bush backed away from his campaign promise and in 2003, his administration ruled that carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming, was not a pollutant and did not need to be regulated.
The President still thinks that there is a "fundamental debate" over whether climate change is "manmade or natural," ignoring the consensus of the scientific community and the opinion of his own Environmental Protection Agency, which in 2002 stated that global warming "is real and has been particularly strong within the past 20 years... due mostly to human activities."
Bush's beliefs about climate change have gone beyond ignorance and have led to his administration's active suppression of the truth. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration allowed Philip A. Cooney, a former Exxon lobbyist with no scientific background, to doctor the findings of some of the government's premiere climate documents, "play[ing] down links between such [greenhouse gas] emissions and global warming." James Hansen, head of NASA's top institute studying the climate, recently said that he was being censored by the Bush administration from speaking out on global warming. "In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public," said Hansen.
The oil industry is fabricating 'science'
The overwhelming evidence on the urgency of global warming doesn't stop some skeptics from denying climate change. The oil industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) have led the public relations effort to undercut the impact of Gore's film. CEI has received $1.6 million from ExxonMobil since 1998 and accepted funding from other oil companies through the American Petroleum Institute.
Earlier this month, CEI released a set of misleading ads claiming " Greenland's glaciers are growing." Actually, the study cited by the ad found there was an increase in snow accumulation on Greenland's interior.
Other studies show that glaciers are thinning on Greenland's coastal regions. Despite what CEI tried to argue, these findings fit with theories of global warming because "the thinning of the margins and growth in the interior Greenland is an expected response to increased temperatures and more precipitation in a warmer climate. These results present no contradiction to the accelerated sliding near the coasts." Another scientist whose research CEI used in the ad blasted the group for misrepresenting his research: "These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate. They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims."
The NCPA, which has received $390,000 from Exxon since 1998, has resorted to scare tactics, unleashing Sterling Burnett on Fox News to compare watching Gore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Fox News has also jumped on the alarmist bandwagon, airing a segment asking whether "An Inconvenient Truth" could "destroy our economy." In reality, a program to develop new sources of energy and rebuild our transportation infrastructure will create new jobs and stimulate the economy.