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Dancing Toward Doomsday: Who Cares?

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Proposition: The most likely doomsday scenario for the planet is not the one we are constantly being force-fed by dissembling politicians and the corporate-controlled media. The right-wing strategy aimed at diverting public attention from the real crisis at hand arguably poses a greater existential threat to our survival than any of the garden-variety "dangers" FOX News fear mongers incessantly warn against. Such diversionary tactics are often exceedingly effective in politics, as in war, but when it comes to the fight against global warming and greenhouse gases they are ultimately self-defeating.

"Climate change" is a catch-all for a wide variety of carbon-induced dangers we all face. Climate change recognizes no boundaries, flags, or creeds. It is real and cannot be ameliorated without international cooperation, which in turn requires enlightened statesmanship.

Even howling skeptics don't deny the reality of global warming, but they insist the causes are natural and have nothing to do with human activity -- as though humans are not part of the natural order. That's wingnut Republican environmental policy: deny responsibility and pretend the problem will go away. Anyway, if there's nothing we can do about it, why not just eat, drink, and be merry, right?

Chunk of ice not too far from its home on Margerie Glacier
Chunk of ice not too far from its home on Margerie Glacier
(Image by Alaskan Dude)
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Chunk of ice not too far from its home on Margerie Glacier by Alaskan Dude

With only a handful of pieces, you might think the climate-change policy puzzle would have a simple solution, but you'd be wrong. The pieces themselves are easy enough to identify:

1. World Population Projections Were Too Low

Instead of leveling off at around 9 billion by 2050, world population will rise to over 10 billion by 2100, according to a 2011 U.N. Population Division report. Earlier projections are now thought to have been overly optimistic. In sub-Saharan Africa alone "the population could more than triple, rising from today's one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said -- a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people." If current trends hold, Nigeria's population, for example, will rise from 162 million to 720 million.

If we think the world is too noisy, congested, polluted, or denuded now, imagine what it will be like during the last half of the this century when there are another 3 to 4 billion people living on a fixed amount of real estate, consuming finite resources, and trying to get to work or school every day. But what was once called the "population bomb" -- and met with dire predictions -- is now all but forgotten. Curious, don't you think?

2. A CO2 Concentration That's Too High

According to the Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the amount of heat-trapping CO2 in the atmosphere has topped 400 parts per million (ppm), a level last reached on the planet Earth some 2 to 3 million years ago. According to, "The safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million, but the only way to get there is to immediately transition the global economy away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable farming practices in all sectors (agriculture, transport, manufacturing, etc.)."

But there's certainly no reason to believe that 400 ppm is as high as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere can or will go. Unless there is an unprecedented effort worldwide to curtail the burning of fossil fuel, 450 ppm will be the new normal in a few decades if not sooner. Ask yourself this: What are the chances that our own leaders will see the light before the sun dims in a carbon cloud? Or this: When has the US ever demonstrated any world leadership on global warming? Or this: Are politicians in Washington more likely to listen to scientists or CEOs? See what I mean?

Here's what Robin Noblin, Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity, has to say about it: "Climate change is wreaking havoc on the Arctic, melting sea ice and permafrost, increasing storms and erosion, and making life utterly unpredictable for the people and animals that call the Arctic home. Rather than making vague statements about Arctic stewardship, the Obama administration should put forward real solutions, such as a cap on black carbon emissions and a moratorium on Arctic offshore oil development."

3. An Incurable Disease Ravaging the American Body Politic

Meanwhile, Washington fiddles while the world burns. We're witnessing a deadly kind of moral decay at the heart of government. Evidence:

* Corrupt politicians and a business class addicted to corporate welfare.

* Lobbies write the only legislation that lawmakers can pass and the filibuster trumps all -- the Constitution, elections, majority rule, and common sense.

* Partisanship carried to such extremes that paralysis is the only possible outcome.

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Tom Magstadt earned his doctorate in international relations at Johns Hopkins (SAIS). He is a twice-tenured college professor and political science chair. He also served as a foreign intelligence analyst, a Visiting Professor at the Air University (more...)
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