Points of Light: The World Wakes Up to Climate Change
By Jim Motavalli Editor, E Magazine | February 18, 2009
There are 60,000 square feet of solar panels on San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center, enough to power 675 houses, and all new municipal buildings in the city by the bay must comply with U.S. Green Building Council standards. In Portland, Oregon, transportation activists and the "Green Team" (made up of city employee volunteers) sponsor Car Free and Care Free (CFCF) weeks that encourage employees to get out of their cars by telecommuting or by using alternative transportation. In 2005, 1,900 commuters took part, avoiding: 37,630 auto trips, 317,000 vehicle miles traveled and the emission of 317,974 pounds of the major global warming gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). And in Buffalo, New York, General Motors' Tonawanda Engine Plant has drastically reduced emissions and gone "landfill free," a feat it achieved by reducing waste generation, recycling and converting waste to energy.
Welcome to a new world, where the debate over the science of global warming is over, but the hard work of combating it-with only a very limited window of opportunity-is only just beginning. We have to act quickly. According to new studies published last March in the respected journal Science, warming temperatures are likely to cause a catastrophic, long-term meltdown on the roof of the world in Greenland and in Antarctica. Scientists say we have a decade at most to reduce our emissions and avoid a nightmare scenario that would flood not only below-sea-level New Orleans, but also much of south Florida and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as well as the California coast.
The average global temperature, according to the international climate scientists banded together in the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will rise by three to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.
The public is only beginning to wake up to the reality of climate change. A record 57 percent of Americans, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, now believe that climate change is underway, but only 36 percent say they worry about it "a great deal." Worse, an ABC/Time/Stanford University poll reveals that 64 percent think there's "a lot of disagreement" among climate scientists on the reality of global warming, when there's actually a near total consensus. According to a Science essay by Naomi Oreskes, 935 peer-reviewed papers on global warming appeared from 1993 to 2005 and, of 700 that dealt with modern climate change, none challenged the consensus that humans were causing global warming. Another 54 percent of poll respondents think climate change is "a problem for the future," versus only 44 percent who think it's already a serious problem.
A team of researchers reported in the journal Nature that, unless the world is getting half its energy from non-carbon sources by 2018, we will see an inevitable doubling-and possible tripling-of atmospheric carbon levels later this century. Another study, published in Science, called for a Manhattan-type crash project to develop renewable energy. Using conservative estimates of future energy use, they found that within 50 years, humanity will need to be generating at least three times more energy from non-carbon sources than the world currently produces from fossil fuels to avoid climate disaster.
Despite the refusal by Australia and the U.S. to ratify the international Kyoto Accords, they have gone into effect, adopted by 55 industrialized nations (responsible for 55 percent of global emissions). The Kyoto signatories have pledged to cut six key greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. It probably won't be enough, since some climate scientists say that a far more dramatic 60 percent cut is needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming.