Schizophrenia in my inbox … Global Warming on the mind

Message to message, my inbox demonstrates a split mentality, item A frequently seeming to be from a different world than item B.  My mailbox is confused.

Let’s take e-mails from two warriors against Global Warming:

  • Senator Barbara Boxer sharing with me magnificent news about huge progress on the Global Warming front.
  • Bill McKibben letting me know that top scientists are confirming that what I’ve feared, that we need to figure out how to not just reduce our CO2 emissions, but need to figure out how to reduce the absolute levels in the atmosphere (and oceans).

Senator Boxer exhorts us to cheering, letting us know that there is more to be done, but that our hearts should be swelled with joy at the achievement of moving the Lieberman-Warner Climate InSecurity Act (CISA) from her committee to the Senate.  In an email entitled “A huge step forward”, Barbara tells us

Our progress on moving global warming legislation through the Environment and Public Works Committee this month and sending it on to the full Senate was a huge step forward for America, and personally, it was one of my proudest accomplishments over my 30 year career in public service.

Wow, it sounds like her committee made some form of great achievement that will make the world a far better place. …

Now, the following paragraphs do tone down that excitement … a little bit.

But we’ve still got many more steps to take over the coming years to fight global warming and save our planet for our kids, our grandkids, and generations to come. …

As Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, leading the fight against global warming will continue to be my top priority.  And, if 2008 goes our way, I may soon be working with a new Democratic President and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress who share our commitment to that fight.

But we’re not going to solve the climate change crisis with just one bill, a better Congress, or a Democratic President.  Fighting global warming is going to require many years of focus, dedication, and leadership to see things through.

Guess what, it is a fundraising letter.   But, again, this is entitled “A Huge Step Forward”, talking about moving forward with the Lieberman-Warner American CISA (Climate InSecurity Act). 

The L-W CISA version of a cap-and-trade would give-away $500 billion (or more) in pollution permits (about 40 percent through 2032), not start cap until 2012, enable polluters to borrow today against tomorrow’s permits, and is set with an inadequate target reduction of in the range of 65 percent of today’s emissions (60 percent of 1990 emissions). 

As a note, this “huge leap forward”, every single Democratic Presidential candidate has a target of at least 80 percent and we’re to celebrate L-Ws inadequate measures.

But just how inadequate we are far from fully understanding.

Bill McKibben‘s email was entitled “A New Wrinkle” and began “Just to make everyone’s life a little more difficult” with a link to his OPED in Friday’s Washington Post, Remember this: 350 parts per million

This month may have been the most important yet in the two-decade history of the fight against global warming. Al Gore got his Nobel in Stockholm; international negotiators made real progress on a treaty in Bali; and in Washington, Congress actually worked up the nerve to raise gas mileage standards for cars.

Note that Lieberman-Warner didn’t make the list. (And, note what seems to be sarcasm about “courage” to raise gas mileage standards, an action supported by a large majority of Americans.)

But what may turn out to be the most crucial development went largely unnoticed. It happened at an academic conclave in San Francisco. A NASA scientist named James Hansen offered a simple, straightforward and mind-blowing bottom line for the planet: 350, as in parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s a number that may make what happened in Washington and Bali seem quaint and nearly irrelevant. It’s the number that may define our future.

350 ppm!  We are already at 385 and going up at a faster rate.  Thus, rather than simply slowing the rate of growth, hoping for some pause at 450 or 550, as if that would avert disaster, we should be thinking about ‘working backwards’ ASAP … truly ASAP.

And we’re already past 350. Does that mean we’re doomed? Not quite. Not any more than your doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high means the game is over. Much like the way your body will thin its blood if you give up cheese fries, so the Earth naturally gets rid of some of its CO2each year. We just need to stop putting more in and, over time, the number will fall, perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage.

That “just,” of course, hides the biggest political and economic task we’ve ever faced: weaning ourselves from coal, gas and oil. The difference between 550 and 350 is that the weaning has to happen now, and everywhere. No more passing the buck. The gentle measures bandied about at Bali, themselves way too much for the Bush administration, don’t come close. … To use the medical analogy, we’re not talking statins to drop your cholesterol; we’re talking huge changes in every aspect of your daily life.  

From Bill’s email, a driving necessit to think differently, to go beyond where thought necessary, to drive urgency where science (rather than political calculation) demands.

One way to look at it is: if the co2 concentration is 385 ppm and the Arctic is quickly melting, why exactly are we talking about 450 ppm. That said, I realize it pushes the boundaries of the possible,  politically, economically, technologically and indeed physically.

Putting the emails together

By declaring moving the Lieberman-Warner Climate InSecurity Act (CISA) out of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) “A huge Step Forward,” Barbara Boxer might simply be letting us know that the “boundaries of the pollible, politically” are simply inadequate, that the American political system is unable to provide a meaningful response to Global Warming’s challenge.

The Lieberman-Warner CISA would, if pursued, would keep CO2 below 500 ppm.   If we’re lucky, that is … 

Yet, the top expert is pointing out that 385 is already too high. That it is time to be thinking about how we move the  needle backwards rather than simply seeking to slow its growth gradually, heading toward a peaking significantly higher than today.

Whispering in one ear, Senator Boxer …  

Celebrate the good times …

In the other ear, Bill McKibben …

Be even more terrified than before …

 In both ears, people perhaps speaking truth about reality, or at least truth about reality as they see it. In one ear, sweet soothings about ‘political’ reality.  And, into the other ear, reality outside convenient hearing rooms, ‘smoke-filled’ backrooms, and political calculations … Into that other ears, speaking from outside the beltway and with the power of science.

To which ear should I pay attention.

Which voice provides greater assurance as to a path to guard the future of the baby in my arms?

PS: Today’s Washington Post had an atrocious article about George Bush and Global Warming.  Schizophrenia in the Post as well?  On the Post, see GreenMiles discussion, The Washington Post & George Bush: Partners in Greenwashing.


One response to “Schizophrenia in my inbox … Global Warming on the mind

  1. Pingback: Boxing our way to disaster? « Energy Smart

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