Adapt or Prevent Climate Change: What Will We Do?

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A few years ago I was in a captive

audience on a plane from Dallas to DC. Sitting right behind me was a

loud and brazenly arrogant coal industry lobbyist on a rant. She was blathering on self-assuredly about the naivete and ignorance of the “tree-hugger”

American people, who have no idea how expensive energy would be if it

wasn't for good old cheap coal. The young woman

went on about most Americans never being willing pay more for energy, and

how people were being brainwashed by green energy “fantasies.”

She illustrated this brainwashing by

telling a story of her own daughter. While giving the girl a bath one

night the child had asked why mommy did not make clean energy to save

the planet, like they talked about in her school. “I felt like

drowning her right there,” the woman laughed, concluding her tale.

No, I didn't make that up. She really

said that and she clearly thought herself clever and hilarious. Ha,

ha, LOL, what a knee-slapper: If your offspring don't tow your

company's line, kill them with your own hands.

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With fanatics like this pushing for

coal, the dirtiest and most climate-altering of all fossil fuels, is

it any wonder that we have made no progress towards reducing carbon

emissions? I bring this up because in this week's journal Nature there

is a series of articles about the soon-to-expire 1997 Kyoto Protocol,

which was supposed to start humanity on a track towards addressing

global warming. 

“The real villain of growing carbon

emissions has been ignored: coal,” writes Dieter Helm, professor of

energy policy at the University of Oxford and fellow in economics at

New College, University of Oxford, UK. His article in Nature is

entitled “The Kyoto approach has failed.” Dieter explains how we

are globally burning more fossil fuels – especially coal – than

ever. He argues that our only hope is to abandon coal, put a price on

carbon consumption and look to new technologies. Another article in

the series looks at the unraveling of the Kyoto-affiliated

cap-and-trade approach to putting a price on carbon emissions, but

also the rise of smaller carbon pricing schemes that hold some hope.

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These are very interesting articles

(not yet available for free) that put a lot of things into

perspective at a time when more world leadership is needed and

perhaps is in the offing. The two-week-long UN climate conference now underway in Doha, Qatar, might give us some direction for what we, as a world, should do (fingers crossed).

But I wonder what we will do.

Will people ever willingly change their lifestyles enough to break

our addiction to fossil fuels, or will we just give up and turn our

attention on adapting and surviving in a drastically altered, less

hospitable and more impoverished planet? People with scientifically

and ethically bankrupt views, like the lobbyist on the plane, are

doing everything to block any progress and protect their paychecks.

So I'm betting we'll end up doing both: change and adapt while in

damage control mode.

And as for that woman's daughter: she,

like my children and all our children, can only hope they don't drown

in the awful mess we have left them.

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IMAGE: Nature Cover (Nature)