Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Climate change deniers take over the House

Originally uploaded by Bjørn Giesenbauer

Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe tackled the challenge of global warming as a first-person observer, traveling around the world to witness the changes in places where they are most severe. Now, writing for The New Yorker in Uncomfortable Climate, she takes a hard look at the current crop of deniers entering the US House of Representatives, many of whom consider their primary role as disrupting any hope of political progress on this critically important global problem.

Though four presidents in succession have paid lip service to preventing dangerous climate change, these commitments haven't lead to any significant action given the magnitude of the challenge.

Elizabeth sums up the current situation neatly:

Meanwhile, as John Boehner chortles about the dangers of CO2, the world keeps heating up. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first half of 2010 was the warmest January to July on record. And this is just the beginning. Owing to the inertia of the climate system, the warming that we’re experiencing is only a fraction of the temperature increase that’s already guaranteed.

The United States is no longer the world’s largest carbon emitter; that honor belongs to China. But we’re still the largest source of warming in terms of cumulative emissions, and on a per-capita basis Americans produce more CO2 than just about anyone except the Qataris. Without the active support of the United States, there’s no way to make progress on emissions globally. This month, negotiators will meet in Cancún for another round of international climate talks, and it’s a safe bet that, apart from the usual expressions of despair, nothing will come of them. It may seem that we’ll just keep going around and around on climate change forever. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: one day, perhaps not very long from now, the situation will spin out of our control.

The window left for action is closing quickly. If the new members of the House have their way, it will be slammed shut permanently, in blithe ignorance of the consequences.