Speaking of fossil fuels and the corporations that will suck the Earth dry in pursuit of profit brings me to one of the things I intended to talk about this week: Global warming, aka climate change.
Of course the big news in that regard was the Pope's encyclical on climate change, which succeeded in doing what no amount of scientific evidence could: It cast global warming as a moral issue, demanding the world's rich nations begin paying their "grave social debt" to the poor who they have exploited as those same rich nations adopted a "cheerful recklessness" in their approach to the Earth's environment and its resources. The result has been to generating climate change that presents an undeniable risk to a "common home" that is beginning to resemble a "pile of filth" with the greatest impact to be felt by the same poor nations that have already borne the greatest burdens.
Therefore, he wrote,
[t]he developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programs of sustainable development.Instead of doing that, he maintained,
[t]hose who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms,which he said pointed to the loss of a "sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded."
It was, overall, a powerful if not unflawed statement* whose moral call was founded on scientific fact - and whose moral argument drew strength from the - no pun intended - chilling reality of those facts.
Just consider that 2014 was, worldwide, the warmest year on records dating back to 1880 and that thirteen of the warmest 15 years on record have occurred since the year 2000.
And 2015 is poised to break that record if the rest of the year is like the beginning. In fact, if you look at the graph, you'll notice the star at the top. That's where 2015 will be if the rest of the year is like it has been so far: literally off the chart.
What's more, two new studies, both published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature Climate Change, concluded that yes, there is a connection between global warming and an increase in severe weather. That is, events like Superstorm Sandy, the extended drought in the western US, and other severe weather events are more likely because of human-driven climate change. Interestingly, the two studies, done independently of each other, examined different means by which climate change could hypothetically cause an increase in severe weather, either through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.) or a change in atmospheric or ocean currents, to gauge the impact of warming.
Different teams, different methods, different focus, same conclusion: Global warming causes increases in severe weather.
Severe weather not just like storms and droughts but heat waves like the one now sweeping into western Europe, which has already seen London experience its hottest July day on record, and the one in Karachi, Pakistan, which has killed over 1200 people as temperatures rose to 113F.
And please don't look for future comfort in the so-called "hiatus" or "pause" in global warming that the nanny-nanny naysayers bark and bray about: Not only do the temperature records of 2014 and 2015 kick that nonsense aside, a re-evaluation of existing data by NOAA - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - suggests that it never actually existed: Global temperatures may not have been rising as dramatically as they did a decade earlier, but they were still, overall, going up.
NASA, which also addresses climate change, says it will take the agency a little time to see if it agrees with NOAA's re-evaluation - but that assumes it will be able to do it at all: The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has passed out a budget for NASA that would cut more than $300 million from its program of Earth studies, which includes climate change. It's the right wing version of putting your fingers in your ears and going "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
Which of course won't help. What might help is moves in various places to divest from fossil fuels, to withdraw your investments from the industry, often under the slogan "keep it in the ground," a course backed by the UN and which makes sense even to Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chair of Shell Oil, who condemned the lack of progress in his industry in addressing climate change and called divestment "a rational approach. "
However, a significant phrase there is former chairman; it often seems true that it's only when they get out of the industry, when they've left behind the mental trap of day-to-day "what makes us the biggest profit" focus that folks such as Moody-Stuart realize the failings and failures.
When they're still inside, well, consider that Tom Altmeyer, a lobbyist for Arch Coal, the second-biggest coal mining company in the US, responded to Pope Francis's encyclical by saying that if he really cared about social justice, the pope would be promoting fossil fuels, that is, he would be pushing for more pollution, more global warming, in particular, more coal.
Those sorts of forces, along with their lackeys in Congress, are what we have to overcome.
I'll be honest, I have no faith that we will. I have no faith that our children and even more our grandchildren will not grow up in a world darkened by the predicted but ignored results of our own "cheerful recklessness" about the Earth. I fear, rather, that they will grow up in a world where severe weather, where hurricanes, droughts, floods, and heat waves, as well as environmental refugees and resource wars, are common experiences.
So here's a challenge for all the right-wingers out there: Make a fool of the lefty. Prove him hopelessly wrong. Not by denying climate change, but by doing something about it, and doing enough to change that future. Make a fool of me. I'll thank you for it.
*For example, he insisted that population growth is not a problem. That does fit in with Catholic notions about abortion and birth control but is absurd on its face: Even the smallest carbon footprint adds to the overall stress on Earth's systems, so more people means more stress by definition.
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