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Bill McKibben: The Most Important Story of Our Lives

6:17 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Bartonsville Covered Bridge before its destruction in the Williams River flood. Photo by Sfoskett / Wikimedia Commons.

By now, it’s already deep election season, the beginning of the culmination of a cycle that commenced the day after (or even the day before) the previous presidential election. In the meantime, the endless polls appear — you can check Obama’s approval rating or the state of the presidential horserace any time, night or day — and the media goes ballistic handicapping the odds or discussing the presidential cat fight. Each side’s handlers take out after the other’s, and increasingly, the corporate dollars pour in (another form of handicapping, or maybe just plain old knee-capping). You know the routine. These days, with the election a mere six months away, Romney/Obama “analysis” and prediction is already in the stratosphere and no issue, from war to a blind self-taught Chinese lawyer escaping to the American embassy in Beijing, is election-proof.

It’s all grist for the mill and who in Washington isn’t reading the polls the way a New Ager might read Tarot cards? So when President Obama suddenly starts talking — quite voluntarily — about global warming as a campaign issue, you know something’s up. What’s up, it turns out, is public concern over climate change after years of polling in which Americans claimed to be ever less worried about the phenomenon.

No one should be surprised, given this overheated year in North America, as Bill McKibben points out in today’s post. In fact, in the latest climate-change polling, 63% of respondents believe “the United States should move forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other countries do.” In another recent poll, 65% of Americans backed the idea of “imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions/other greenhouse gases” (as 75% now support regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant”).

This is something new in America. Times, like the weather, are evidently a-changin’. And the president has noticed this, especially since he’s facing an opponent who, last fall, went on the record this way: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

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Christian Parenti: Big Storms Require Big Government

7:31 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

A BIG Storm! (photo: indieflickr, flickr)

A BIG Storm! (photo: indieflickr, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

At some basic level, climate change shouldn’t be hard to grasp.  Fossil-fuel burning — the essence of our civilization since the industrial revolution — dumps prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.  As it happens, 2010 was another banner year for carbon dioxide production; the 5.9% rise in CO2 emissions was the “biggest jump ever recorded.” That greenhouse gas, in turn, traps heat and so warms the planet.  The results are clear enough for anyone to see.  Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.  Last year was the ninth warmest on record, despite an expected cooling effect from a strong La Niña temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

More heat means more turbulence, which means more extreme weather events, which have clearly been on the rise — more wetness, more droughts, fiercer storms.  In that category, 2011 was definitely a year for the record books, with an unprecedented 14 weather events that each caused $1 billion or more in damage.  More extreme weather means more human misery, relatively predictable globally, but reasonably unexpected when it actually hits locally.

The urge not to believe that we are despoiling our own planet has meant that we’ve been slow to develop alternate energy sources, but not slow to grow economically.  What that means, of course, is that the search only intensifies for more fossil fuels, ever tougher to get as time goes on and ever “dirtier” (in greenhouse gas terms) to produce.

It’s the definition of a nasty feedback loop, made worse because the changing planet is itself setting off other phenomena that only increase the warming trend.  Arctic sea ice, now melting at prodigious rates, reflects the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere.  Less ice, in other words, isn’t just a sign of the planet getting hotter, but a factor in heating up the planet.  In addition, the more iceless the oceans, the more their waters absorb carbon emissions, which only puts further pressure on many of the life forms living in them.  Similarly, the melting of the permafrost in the northern reaches of the planet, which contains vast frozen reservoirs of another greenhouse gas, methane, might — no one is yet sure — sooner or later release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, only increasing the overheating effect.  It’s creepy.  It’s happening.  And Ma Nature really doesn’t give a damn whether we’re in denial or not. Read the rest of this entry →