Gore makes a connection

By Bryan Walker 09/05/2010

If the oil spill is a disaster consider the CO2 spill, writes Al Gore in an article published yesterday in The New Republic.

’Worldwide, the amount of man-made CO2 being spilled every three seconds into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet equals the highest current estimate of the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo well every day. Indeed, the average American coal-fired power generating plant gushes more than three times as much global-warming pollution into the atmosphere each day–and there are over 1,400 of them.’

Global temperatures are rising and the acidity of the sea is increasing as a result. But that’s only a start. These processes have triggered a ’cascading set of other impacts.’ He lists them:

  • The melting of virtually all the mountain glaciers in the world
  • The prospective disappearance of the North Polar Ice Cap
  • The accelerating melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice masses threatening catastrophic increases in sea level
  • Deeper and longer droughts in mid-continent regions
  • More and larger forest fires
  • The migration of tropical diseases to temperate latitudes
  • An accelerated extinction rate
  • The increased destructive power of tropical storms coming off the ocean
  • Increased large downpours of both rain and snow

He discusses precipitation changes at greater length, noting their effect on subsistence farmers in developing countries in particular.  He draws into the discussion the extraordinary recent report of April rainfall by British scientists working near the North Pole and moves to point to the effects of the rapid warming in the Arctic with its consequences for decrease of albedo and methane release from the thawing of permafrost.

The problems are too easily put out of sight and out of mind.  But inaction means that the truly disastrous consequences become inevitable long before the worst impacts are manifest.

’Our perception of the dangers of the climate crisis therefore relies on our ability to understand and trust the conclusions reached by the most elaborate and impressive scientific assessment in the history of our civilization.

’In other words, rather than relying on visceral responses, we have to draw upon our capacity for reasoning, communicating clearly with one another, forming a global consensus on the basis of science, and making a choice in favor of preventive action on a global scale.’

At this point he launches an attack on the ’cynical and lavishly funded disinformation campaign’:

’A number of large carbon polluters, whose business plans rely on their continued ability to freely dump their gaseous waste products into the global atmospheric commons–as if it is an open sewer–have chosen to pursue a determined and highly organized campaign aimed at undermining public confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the global scientific community. They have attacked the scientific community by financing pseudo-studies aimed at creating public doubt about peer-reviewed science. They have also manipulated the political and regulatory process with outsized campaign contributions and legions of lobbyists (there are now four anti-climate lobbyists for every single member of the House and Senate).’

This is happening at a time when American democracy has grown sclerotic. (A theme he developed extensively in his book The Assault on Reason, which is well worth reading for a sense of the intellectual depth Gore brings to his analysis.) Money plays a dangerous part in politics.

’Our democratic conversation is now dominated by expensive 30-second television commercials, which consume two-thirds of the campaign budgets of candidates in both political parties. The only reliable source of such large sums of campaign cash is business lobbies.’

Most members of the House and Senate facing competitive election contests have to spend large amounts of time each day asking special interests for money to finance their campaigns. This is the context in which the climate bill is stalled in the Senate.

It’s a dismal picture, but Gore has hopes that the oil spill will give some momentum to the  Senate bill.

’The unpleasant reality now spilling onto the shores of the Gulf Coast is creating public outrage and may also be generating a new opportunity to pass legislation, just as the oil spill 20 years ago from the Exxon Valdez created public momentum sufficient to overcome the anti-environment special interests.’

Let’s hope that is the case, for Gore is fully justified in one of his concluding statements: ’Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy.’