On Big Soggy Apples

February 18, 2009

As I noted yesterday, the words of Vicky Pope are catnip for professional climate change deniers. Although they were ostensibly a call for moderation (advocating the self-censorship of those inclined to report the upper limits of the conclusions of the IPCC), they actually now function as a potent propaganda tool for those who would love to see the same IPCC scrapped and publicly shamed.

As the Telegraph’s resident denier-du-jour, Milo Yiannopolous, puts it, “One by one, the most extreme scientific studies are being discredited and the most hysterical ringleaders are being exposed as scare-mongering rabble-rousers. Governments must surely now realise there are far greater priorities than the apocalyptic shrieking of the climate change industry.”

A report on Vicky Pope’s article is linked to via the text “the most extreme scientific studies are being discredited.” As Professor Chris Field told the AAAS this week, this is not at all true, of course, but this is immaterial to those who have but a single end in sight – the removal of action to fight climate change from the political agenda.

Still, many people remain stubbornly resistant. An advisory panel of scientists set up by New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg has reported, and it has reported bad news for the Big Apple. As the New York Times conveys, the panel “said that mean annual temperatures in New York could increase by up to 3 degrees and the average sea levels rise by 2 to 5 inches by the 2020s” while, “By the 2080s, temperatures could increase by up to 7 ½ degrees, and sea levels could rise 12 to 23 inches by the end of the century.”

The mayor, an impeccable neoliberal businessman by instinct, has come to recognise the need for action. Echoing Australia’s firefighters, he said that “Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after the catastrophe…We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”

Meanwhile, a report surfacing from within the World Bank bureaucracy has found that “Global climate change threatens the complete disappearance of the Andes’ tropical glaciers within the next 20 years, putting precious water, energy and food sources at risk.” Years of rising temperatures have already diminished water supplies in Peru’s coastal region by 12 percent, while 20 percent of Peruvian glaciers have simply lost their ice caps.

Additionally, the report on climate change in Latin America, warns that rising temperatures in the Caribbean could kill off coral populations “which could cause the Caribbean basin’s ecosystem to “collapse” as the AP puts it. Then there are the small matters of “wetlands devastation in the Gulf of Mexico due to deforestation, pollution and land development; and the risk of reduced rainfall drying large swaths of the Amazon jungle.”

On balance, the momentum has shifted towards an acceptance that action is vital. But the speed and scope of such action remains unclear. As all of the reports that are emerging substantiate, this action needs to be as rapid and far reaching as is possible.

Skeptics would probably cry that we risk submitting to the whims of “hysterical” zealots or, in Pope’s terms, afficionados of the coming “apocalypse.” But this is a fantasy. While acceptance of what is happening has grown, political action to do anything about it has been derisory.

Putting off until tomorrow what can be spun inside out or ignored today is a hard habit to expunge.

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