We could have more climate change than the centuries since the last Ice AgeLost in the thick fog of politics in the past couple weeks has been fresh news about global warming in the Arctic and elsewhere.
Top NASA climate expert Dr. James E. Hansen said last week that the Bush administration's aversion to admitting global warming exists is setting the stage for disaster.
President Bush's policy for dealing with heat-trapping gases generated by human activities is to delay any binding cuts in such emissions in our nation until 2012. The administration is heavy with past and future leaders of the coal and petroleum industries who are simply unwilling to contemplate any change in a status quo that lines their own pockets. The largely voluntary emissions-control strategies encouraged by the president are likely to be too little, too late.
The European community realizes that rapid climate change threatens the underpinnings of the global economy. Those nations are responding with a vigorous program for limiting the release of carbon dioxide, even as the United States appears hell-bent on injecting as much CO2 in the atmosphere as possible before being forced by circumstances into making changes.
Those circumstances, says Hansen, could include a significant rise in sea levels, something that would result in massive property losses in our nation and in the wholesale devastation of impoverished low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
In the Arctic, scientists and residents already are observing undeniable and costly changes in the climate, as permafrost melts under buckling highways, sea ice retreats from native villages and ecosystems struggle to adjust. Not all changes associated with global warming are bad, and the retreat of ice may in fact permit greatly increased shipping in the high Arctic, a boon to the economy but perhaps at the cost of shores put at risk by oil spills and invasive species.
It is to be hoped that the Bush administration will, in its second term, show less animosity to inconvenient scientific facts. Hansen believes he was actively discouraged from publicizing his findings on rising sea levels by administration functionaries intent on not rocking the boat.
Open discussion, support for objective scientific studies and a willingness to contemplate inconvenient changes in our hydrocarbon-based energy economy are all absolutely vital as the United States looks ahead to a century that may bring more climate change than in all the centuries since the last Ice Age.