The news and views on global warming are coming fast and thick, some more thick than others. Sarah Palin has an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate change talks in the interests of “science.” Congressional “skeptics” and right-wing bloggers are spending many words on a tempest-in-a-teapot, the so-called “climategate” e-mail hacking furor.
Newspapers alternate between reporting that any kind of agreement from Copenhagen is unlikely and the next day reporting that signs are good for an agreement. There are reportedly from 15,000 to 20,000 people in Copenhagen for the conference.
The developing countries’ delegates in Copenhagen are reported to be in an uproar over a leaked Danish draft which would give more power to the developed countries. Obama was first maybe going to Copenhagen, maybe not, then he was going on his way to the Nobel Prize ceremony, now he is going for the last day of the conference, where he will join the leaders of about 100 countries to hopefully provide the final push for some kind of agreement.
Bolivia’s UN ambassador calls for developed countries to acknowledge their “carbon debt.” The representative of Tuvalu, the tiny South Pacific island that is one of the first countries which will likely disappear because of sea level rise due to global warming, is prevented from fully expressing his demands for much more serious action. Al Gore admits that the proposals the U.S. is taking to Copenhagen about its own carbon dioxide emissions are nowhere near enough but nevertheless are a crucial first step. Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations, calls on the leaders of the world to save us from ourselves. Prominent newspapers in over 50 countries publish a joint editorial calling for action on climate change.
While some developing countries demand $150 billion to $200 billion a year from developed countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, some developed countries are offering in the range of $10 billion a year. As one participant said, comparing this to the over $1 trillion spent on financial bailouts, “Ten billion will not buy developing countries’ citizens enough coffins.”
Amidst all the uproar, several things are clear.
The scientific consensus about the reality of global warming is more solid than ever. The evidence for escalating impacts due to global warming are accumulating – from disappearing ice in the Arctic to climate refugees in Africa, from expansion of tropical diseases northward to shifting weather patterns resulting in more and longer droughts and decreasing agricultural yields.
Public knowledge and discussion of global climate change is also accumulating, from the World Meteorological Organization declaring this decade to be the hottest on record, and 2009 set to be the fifth warmest year on record, to the debates in the serious business press about which would be better for business, a cap-and-trade scheme or a carbon tax.
The public is hearing that the worst predictions of a few years ago are becoming the most likely outcomes of business-as-usual industrial production and growth.
The first international acknowledgement of global climate change came after the Rio Earth Summit in the early 1990s. Since then, global carbon emissions have increased by about one-third. Scientists have revised their prediction of the disappearance of Arctic summer ice, from by the end of the century to within a decade. Even the most optimistic scenarios based on the current offers from all countries to reduce carbon emissions predict increases in the average world temperature of 3 or 4 degrees Farenheit by the end of the century, with higher increases likely.
It is also clear that the deniers will not give up their denying. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is in Copenhagen trying to get press coverage for his claims of fraud in climate science. Many congresspeople, including many coal and industrial state Democrats, have publicly proclaimed their opposition to the climate change bill passed by the House and now before the Senate, as inadequate as those bills are. Even as some major companies leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its backward position on climate change, the Chamber is even more adamant about opposing any and all efforts to limit carbon emissions.
It is clear that whatever agreement results from the Copenhagen conference will be less than what the world’s atmosphere needs, but that a defeat of any agreement would be a giant step backwards. About 50,000 protesters are expected in Copenhagen, demanding faster action on emissions control.
Photo: A delegate walks in front of a light installation at the entrance to the climate conference in Copenhagen. (AP/Anja Niedringhaus)