Changing the Climate  

Posted by Big Gav

Bill McKibben has a good summary of the current state of affairs regarding global warming and the failure of traditional environmentalism to counter the number one cause - carbon dioxide emissions.

The article is part of a special report on "The Environment: Death and Rebirth".

t’s hard to remember how popular the environmental idea was at the end of the 1980s. The movement had survived the crude efforts of the Reagan administration to kill it off. (Remember James Watt? Remember Treasury Secretary Don Regan advising that the best defense against a thinning ozone layer was a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses?) A barge loaded with American garbage circled the world as one country after another refused to let it land. The beaches of Long Island and New Jersey were awash in medical waste. Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1988 was actually a planet: our “Endangered Earth.” A serious environmentalist would soon become vice president of the United States.

So what happened? Carbon dioxide happened. If you want to understand the death of environmentalism, you need to understand the gas on which it choked. Carbon dioxide (CO2) was fatefully different from all the pollution that had come before it. Unlike carbon monoxide -- the key ingredient in nasty brown smog, the pollutant that helped kill Londoners breathing coal fumes -- carbon dioxide, ironically, is essentially nontoxic. But CO2 is the inevitable byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion. It’s not something going wrong; it’s what’s supposed to happen when you burn coal or oil or gas. But its molecular composition traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space, thus causing the phenomenon we now know as global warming -- a phenomenon that will produce temperatures by century’s end higher than at any time since before the beginning of primate evolution. And to solve it? There’s really only one way, which is to reduce the amount of CO2 we produce. That is, burn less coal and oil and gas.

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