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Machines Like Us

Game over for the climate?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012
by Mano Singham

Anyone who is even minimally aware of how climate science works knows that you cannot use any one weather event or one anomalous season in any single location to argue for or against global warming. But some of the most vociferous opponents of the global warming hypothesis tend to be scientifically naïve and parochial and think that way (“Look at that snow! So much for global warming! Ha! Ha!). Maybe such people in this area of Ohio will be sobered up by the fact that the last winter was the warmest on record (it was barely a winter) and that we are predicted to have a warmer than normal summer.

The worst part is that people who should really know better add to the ignorant way we discuss these issue. For example, you have members of congress like senator James Inhofe (R-OK) saying that the Bible refutes the idea that we could be damaging the climate because his god has promised not to.

If you think about it for a minute, it is quite incredible that a US senator, a major elected political figure in one of the most advanced technological countries in the world, can use the Bible as an argument on a scientific question and not be greeted with hoots of derisive laughter. In a sane society, such a statement would so embarrass the people of his state that he supposedly represents that he would be booted out of office. It is a sign of how we have accepted as the new normal those things that should rightly be beyond the pale of accepted political discourse.

Unfortunately the evidence in favor of global warming keeps piling up. A recent study by scientists in Australia show that the there is no precedent in the last 1000 years for the rise in temperatures we have seen in the last 50 years.

James Hansen is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and was one of the first people to sound the alarm over global warming, going all the way back to a paper he and co-workers published in Science in 1981. He warns in a recent op-ed, that if Canada proceeds to exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves, and is aided in doing so by the US allowing the construction of a pipeline to enable it to transport it to refineries in the Gulf coast, then it would be game over for the climate, that we would have passed the point of no return. He explains why current policies are wrong and suggests a way of reversing this trend:

We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.