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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/3/12

Global Climate Change: Intervention Required

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As an adult I've intervened to help family members come to grips with a serious addiction, such as alcoholism.  In the face of irrefutable evidence that Global Climate Change is causing irreparable damage to the environment, when are you and I going to do an intervention to wean humanity from its addiction to fossil-fuel?

This summer's extreme weather has caused all but the most dogmatic to conclude that Global Climate Change is affecting our weather.  Environmentalist Bill McKibben reported that we recently experienced the warmest June on record for the Northern Hemisphere, "the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average."  Finally the general public acknowledges the peril of Global Climate Change.  A recent NEW YORK TIMES poll concluded: 

"A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse, including the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012 (72%), record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011 (70%), the drought in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 (69%), record snowfall in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 (61%), the Mississippi River floods in the spring of 2011 (63%), and Hurricane Irene (59%)."

Now we have to change our behavior.  Writing in ROLLING STONE, Bill McKibben analyzed our precarious planetary position and focused on three numbers.  The first is 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  In 2009, planetary scientists agreed that an increase in global temperature beyond 2 degrees Celsius would cause horrific damage.  Since 2009, we've moved "three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target."

McKibben's second number is 564 gigatons -- that's the amount of additional carbon dioxide we can emit by 2050 and still have a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius.  Last year we pumped in 31.6 gigatons; at this rate we'll exude 564 gigs by 2028.  McKibben's third number is 2975 gigatons -- that's "the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies" the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn."  In other words, we're galloping towards an unthinkable increase of global temperature, perhaps as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

There are two aspects of this grim problem.  The first is that most of us are addicted to cheap fossil fuel; we enjoy our lifestyle and believe that our individual action will not have an affect on Global Climate Change.  The second aspect is that the fossil-fuel industry is in business to supply our addiction and, as a side effect, wreck the planet.  Getting serious about Global Climate Change means shutting them down.

To save humanity we need to intervene, take action to stop our addiction to fossil fuel.

There are two styles of intervention.  The first is to reason with the subject.  This happens after family or friends observes that a loved one has gone through a long period of decay.  For example, a widowed mother or father has been living alone in their home and gradually loses the capacity for self care; their family meets with them to convince them to move to an assisted-living facility.  The second style of intervention is more directive and typically happens after a dramatic event. For example, an alcoholic gets arrested for DUI and either the court or their family makes them go to AA.  Most successful interventions follows a dramatic event.  For example, a wife is convinced to leave her abusive husband after he beats her so severely she has to go to the hospital. 

What dramatic event might cause humanity to stop using fossil fuel?

Not hot weather or fires; at least not on the scale we're seeing.  That's because it's difficult to stop using.  And because the fossil-fuel industry has changed their tactics.  Instead of trying to convince us that Global Climate Change is not happening, they're claiming that it's effects will be resolved by science.  Bill McKibben reported the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently asserted, "Populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations."

The stance of the fossil-fuel industry is similar to that of the tobacco industry before it was widely accepted that smoking causes lung cancer.  Remember the ad "More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette"?  First the tobacco industry tried to deny there was a problem.  Then, when overwhelming evidence proved their was a problem, the tobacco industry switched their tactics, Smoking is not as bad as they say, the consequences are exaggerated.

Stopping using fossil fuel is as difficult as stopping smoking.  A successful intervention means stopping all use of fossil fuel, and shutting down the fossil-fuel industry.  That's a tall order given that huge amount of money involved -- eight of the top 20 largest public companies are in "oil and gas operations" (topped by Exxon Mobil whose $41.1B in profits are more than double those of the number two company, JPMorgan Chase).

Humanity is not ready for an intervention because, for most folks, there hasn't been a dire event.  Therefore, the earth will continue to heat up and our weather will become more unpredictable.  Until there is a cataclysm -- something we can't ignore.


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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