My first post on climate change, The Corporate Rush to Global Climate Change, was inspired in part by the exceptional work of James Balog. If you are a first time visitor to this blog, I urge you to invest the time to read that post and, more importantly, watch the Balog film Chasing Ice.
Today's post is also inspired by a filmmaker. The New York Times' Sunday Review highlights still photography, video clips and commentary by Michael Benson, in a piece entitled Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamity. The caption for the piece is,
"Man-made perils to the universe's garden of life are evident from space."Benson notes that in the early days of space travel there was little evidence of the man-made damage future flights would reveal. As he says,
"Sure, Los Angeles was visibly smoggy. And irrigated cropland could sometimes be discerned...But these were exceptions. Under a startlingly thin layer of atmosphere, vast expanses of desert ceded to forests that gave way to the oceans that make up 70 percent of the Earth's surface. The planet seemed largely untouched."Back then, the world's population was half of today's growing total. The current picture is "deeply unsettling",
"While our world remains ravishingly beautiful, it increasingly shows symptoms of distress. Many of these indicators are the direct result of human activity. Others are the indirect consequence of using our atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases."In his commentary Benson repeats a theme you will recall from my previous two posts; namely, that we are approaching atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide not seen since the mid-Pliocene, some three million years ago. And again, to state the obvious, we have no place else to go when temperatures rise past the 2 degree maximum that was established in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate conference.
Benson also refers (a little naively, imho) to a recent speech by President Obama that promised action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He goes on to suggest that,
"President Obama should invite world leaders to an emergency conclave in Washington as early as possible and challenge China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other major greenhouse-gas emitters to equal or exceed the percentage reductions he seeks for the United States. He should also try to rally the nation and globe in support of an international Manhattan Project, in which the best scientific minds would devise carbon-sequestration technologies that could clean the air of the heating elements we've put there - rather than simply seeking to limit the damage."I have read the transcript of Obama's speech, and long before this I was seriously ambivalent (at best) to the solemn pronouncements of Mr. Hope & Change. While it is important and valuable that he raises this critical issue, his comments come off as too little too late, and more than just a little self-serving for a president looking to substantiate his legacy. And his comments stand in stark contrast to the failure of Copenhagen - a failure in which his administration was highly complicit - and his complete absence from the recent Rio+ conference. So, too, his failure to support the modest but ground-breaking Yasuni-ITT initiative, on which I last posted.
The reality of American politics - a world of lobbyists and corporate personhood and Citizens United - makes Obama's newfound passion for our future world just a little disingenuous. And if he were to make global climate change the signature issue of his presidency, there are enormous obstacles to overcome - not just the general level of misinformation amongst the great unwashed, but the blindly willful ignorance so proudly displayed by many members of the US Congress. It is truly sobering to read the comments of the many climate deniers who populate the US House and Senate.
While I think that Mr. Benson is rather too hopeful in what Obama can, should and will do, here's where I do concur with him - Benson is absolutely correct when he says that,
"A sense of emergency is what is urgently needed."But that sense of urgency needs to come from the masses. Politicians are not the answer. This is a world increasingly run by and for the elite, a world in which politicians are fully complicit, a world of economic neo-liberalism, corporate control and an ever-widening gulf between those who matter and those who don't.
Your musical accompaniment for the day: Tom Saywer, by Rush. "No his mind is not for rent, by any god or government." Enjoy.