Studies mostly confirm the dire consequences of carbons emitted into the atmosphere through modern human impacts and industrial waste: Wildly fluctuating and catastrophic weather patterns that will result in deadly floods, drought, famine and worse, including eventual extinction.
A few, mostly conservative politicians beholden to oil and coal, try to diminish, discredit or outright deny reports that a fossil-fueled economy will eventually lead us to ruin.
They argue there’s no way a planet this large or old could be subject in just 100 years of human impacts to the potential weather-based devastations predicted by “consensus” scientists, who warn that we must put a cap on carbons now, or be doomed.
“This seems to be a lot of hype about nothing,” climate change skeptics have said. “Hasn’t warming occurred on the planet before? Doesn’t the historical record demonstrate previous eras of warming without human impacts?”
One friend, for the sake of argument, recently pointed out: “The planet’s been here, what, four billion years? And we’re going to measure the little sliver of the past 100 years of industrialization and say that humans are the cause of warming?”
Well, yes, comes the counter argument. Indeed, that’s what the consensus has been saying for some time now. That is the critical factor in these debates, isn’t it?
We know the obvious signs: Depletion of the ozone layer, receding polar ice caps and melting glaciers, the acidification and warming of oceans from excess carbons, and extreme weather patterns, to name just a few.
Human contributing factors are most obvious in depleting land uses, such as the destruction of rain forests, that countervail the earth’s natural capacity to cool itself, plus the burning of fossil fuels which add pollutants that are killing ocean life and creating holes in the earth’s atmosphere.
Still others argue that it’s too late. We’ve already signed our collective death warrant, they say; it’s only a matter of time, as well as a few more cataclysmic hurricanes, droughts, and food shortages, before people will finally start to get the message that our species, as well as others, are already on the path to elimination, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Meanwhile, amid the flurry of competing ideas and interests, lines are drawn in the political sands and, in the U.S. at least, little actual large-scale work is being done to eliminate carbons polluting the atmosphere. Coal and oil reap record profits while doing little to nothing to substantially reduce their impacts.
It’s business as usual.
Lost in the shuffle, of course, is a determined, honest consideration by both regulators and industry of the overwhelming and incontrovertible scientific evidence that human-caused global warming is indeed a fact, according to most reputable climate change specialists who have studied the phenomenon.
Or, if the evidence is given any weight, political and economic advantages from polluting industries prevail over common sense and what many, including a large percentage of conservatives, consider the right thing to do: Reduce our impacts, lessen our dependency on foreign oil and develop more renewable, cleaner sources of energy.
Another factor addling the debate, according to a recent study, is that no matter how well scientists articulate their findings or how well those findings are assimilated by the general public, cultural and emotional influences have a greater impact than sound reason on how people interpret the data.
So we’re left with what essentially is an impasse.
In the long run, one has to wonder: Does it really matter whether our polluting lifestyle contributes to global warming?
We already know that polluting the environment undermines our capacity to live well and stay healthy, if not survive. So why not begin the process of weaning ourselves off not just foreign oil, but fossil fuels altogether, and begin to transition into renewable energy sources?
It mostly boils down to economics and an unwillingness or inability on the part of industry to innovate, to seek healthier, cleaner forms of energy to power production. Politicians and lobbyists with ties to oil and coal appear to have the upper hand in the failure of U.S. regulators to control carbon emissions.
They frame the debate and hold the keys to preventing the government from setting standards that might lead to innovations in clean and renewable energy sources.
For example, thanks largely to oil and coal propaganda, we argue whether “warming” is even an appropriate term in discussing the issue. In politically correct circles, perhaps as a way to avoid endless rhetorically flawed skirmishes between opposing camps, we agree to use the term global “climate change.”
In most scientific and political circles throughout the world, however, it’s generally agreed that the planet is going through a warming trend. Of course, there are some hired guns who dispute the evidence, and others who, in fact, claim just the opposite, that the earth is going through a cooling phase.
It’s a classic example of subterfuge, say environmentalists, who point to early so-called “scientific” studies funded by tobacco that showed cigarettes posed no health risks. In the end, the ploy to confuse the issue works by creating inaction and allowing industry to continue polluting.
Sorting through the conflicting reports has been daunting for the average consumer of news, and worse, only causes more confusion and argument, postponing any real action to reduce carbons.
Consequently, the idea that global warming is caused by human inputs remains a hot-button issue, especially and mostly in the U.S.
So, while there may be general agreement between opposing camps that changes in global weather patterns are afoot, there continues to be heated debate on whether those changes are the result of human and industrial activity.
It appears that so long as industry can question the international scientific “consensus” on global warming, we can continue to put off doing anything to reduce carbons, thus save industry from costly innovation and re-tooling.
As the 2012 presidential campaign spins into high gear, however, the matter of how we power our lives will likely take a more central place in the news and in our public discourse. In fact, it may be the one issue that reignites Obama’s disappointed political base.
The debate, like global warming, will grow increasingly heated as policymakers, goaded by both lobbyists and grassroots activists, search for ways to protect industry while attempting to reduce carbons.
Oil and coal, the predominant sources of energy in the U.S., continue to reap record profits, and lobby Congress with funds that the green industry can only dream about, making it virtually impossible to pass legislation that will put a cap on pollutants.
As oil and gas become more difficult and dangerous to extract, we can expect closer scrutiny of how government and industry will address our energy needs and dependencies.
So long as politics and economics rather than sound science drive the discussion, however, solutions will continue to elude us, and our dependencies on limited energy sources such as oil and coal will continue unabated.
Few will argue that the U.S. will be much better off when it can find a way to reduce its consumption of foreign oil, and produce its own energy here at home.
The burning question of how to do that also eludes as one camp digs in its heels, shouting “drill, baby, drill!”, while the other camp, equally intransigent, counters, “No way!”
Compromise seems out of the question, and yet we live in an uncertain transition period where oil and coal are clearly becoming more difficult to extract. Fossil fuels, and everything dependent upon them, virtually all goods and services available, are becoming more and more expensive to obtain.
No one seems to know really how much time is left before oil runs out—20 years? 100 years? 1,000 years?—but it’s clearly a limited, nonrenewable resource. The oil supply, while still plentiful, is on the decline and eventually will be depleted. There are no more fields of the stuff to be newly discovered.
Clearly, we need other, more dependable and, green activists say, cleaner sources of energy.
We need to listen to the scientists who have given us their most dedicated efforts, not from political or economic gain, but out of a devotion to knowledge and information that will provide us with the truest, most accurate picture of how humans contribute to global warming, and put our best minds to work on developing technologies that will bring us out of the fossil fuel era. §