Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Sins of Emission: No Politician Seriously Believes That Americans Are Willing to Deal with Global Warming. Is It Too Late to Prove Them Wrong?

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Sins of Emission: No Politician Seriously Believes That Americans Are Willing to Deal with Global Warming. Is It Too Late to Prove Them Wrong?

Article excerpt

"Sin," of course, is a word we've agreed to stop using in polite company--a cheap way of making an argument, its force eroded by its constant application to matters of personal style. So let's refer to the pattern of' unfortunate option selection by the Bush administration when it comes to the environment. Two main types emerge.

There is the unfortunate option selection of commission. This covers the aggressive vandalism of the nation's landscape, a deliberate and carefully planned assault on every part of the nation's landscape. To give just a few examples on a very long list: The Bush administration has returned huge sections of the national forests to the tender ministrations of the logging industry on the pretext that this will prevent forest fires (the "Healthy Forests Initiative"); they are trying to let power plants increase the amount of sulfur and nitrogen that they are allowed to emit (the "Clear Skies" initiative); they have allowed mining companies to appropriate as much federal land as they would like on which to store the slag from their operations (the "Thanks for Campaign Contribution" initiative); and they have tried, despite millions of letters, to overturn earlier decisions on everything from saving roadless areas to banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone (the "Screw You" initiative).

And then there are the unfortunate option selections of omission. This category denotes something different: the willful and childlike blindness to physical reality simply because it would be inconvenient to recognize it. For instance, in the years since President Bush was elected, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its third assessment report, Climate Change 2001. Its authors, the world's leading climatologists, assessed all the peer-reviewed research of the last decade and calibrated all the planet's computerized climate models, concluding from their work that unless we take dramatic action to reduce our use of coal, gas, and oil, the temperature of this particular planet will increase something like five degrees Fahrenheit before the century is out. That would make it hotter than it has been on this particular planet for tens of millions of years.

Even with our current increase of one degree Fahrenheit, every major glacial system on earth is melting, the seasons are shifting radically, and both drought and deluge are on the increase. Five degrees--by no means the worst-case scenario--would literally be the largest change humans have ever made to the planet, and the largest' change humans have ever faced. Those living on the margins would, of course, be affected the worst--many credible estimates suggest that the number of environmental refugees in this century will outnumber the political refugees of the bloody century we've just endured. And the rest of creation? An extinction crisis at least as bad as the last time a major asteroid hit, some 90 million years ago. Except that this time the asteroid is us.

So, in the face of that news, what has President Bush done? He has ended our participation in the Kyoto accords, the only (albeit timid) global effort to address this most global of problems. His vice president has scorned conservation as a "personal virtue" and proffered an energy plan that foresees dramatic and endless increases in fossil fuel production, refining, and combustion--foresees Americans producing 20 percent more carbon dioxide in the next generation even as the rest of the industrialized world is working hard to cut its emissions by that much or more. He has sued to stop state attempts to, say, modestly increase automobile gas mileage. He has allowed old friends in the energy industry to plunder deregulated electricity markets and then tried to pin the blame on environmentalists for not building new power plants. He has put a pitiful few billions of dollars for renewables into his new energy plan, while larding it with truckfuls of money for coal, oil, and gas. …

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