The Edmond Sun

Opinion

May 16, 2013

We’ve become our own worst enemies

ONEONTA, N.Y. — The past couple months have been marked by a seeming unprecedented number of man-made tragedies, as distinct from those caused by violent outbursts of the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

You don’t want to dwell too long on the negative, but we do have to take notice of horrific human events and we owe it to ourselves to respond to them in some way. We don’t always agree on those responses, however, and that usually exacerbates the problem.

The previous month began April 15 with the Boston Marathon bombings, which was quickly followed by the fiery fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. Then, on April 24, the building housing several garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh. These tragedies left more than 1,000 dead and hundreds more injured.

The four-week span concluded recently with an announcement that has yet to result directly in deadly disasters, though they are certainly waiting to happen and eventually will pale the earlier catastrophes.

Scientists reported that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached levels not occurring since the Earth was a tumultuous mix of volcanoes and bubbling seas, spewing noxious gases and ash into the planet’s young biosphere. That was at least three billion years ago.

While the chaotic phenomena at that time may have led to the development of the earliest forms of life, the levels of pollution we have put into the atmosphere today may contribute to an end of life for many species.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, make the carbon dioxide measurements with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instruments. The carbon dioxide reading of 400 parts per million was the highest since measurements began in 1958.

Most experts agree that the gas gets into the atmosphere primarily by fossil fuel burning and is the most significant greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and climate change.

NOAA senior scientist Pieter Tans, with the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., said “the evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving the acceleration” in the measurements.

And once it’s emitted, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere and oceans for thousands of years. That’s why doom-and-gloom forecasters say it’s too late to help ourselves, though we can try to save the planet for our descendants.

Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at Scripps, said the latest negative milestone is “a done deal. But what happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy.”

The problem is that we’ve been hearing such warnings for decades but, while making some progress in limiting emissions, we have not done nearly enough to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. In fact, with proposed oil pipelines and natural gas drilling, we continue to push for expanding our dependence.

And now, as former Vice President Al Gore warned on his blog last week, “we are reaping the consequences of our recklessness.”

“Our food systems, our cities, our people and our very way of life developed within a stable range of climatic conditions on Earth,” he continued. “Without immediate and decisive action, these favorable conditions on Earth could become a memory if we continue to make the climate crisis worse day after day after day.”

Despite the need for decisive action, the outlook for it occurring is not good. The chances of government and business working together for the changes necessary are slim indeed, for what is needed is an overhaul in our views of nature, our planet and ourselves, not more lobbying by the fossil-fuel industry.

Experts consider the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be 350 parts per million. To reduce our emissions to get back to that level will require a slowdown in the global economy, and a move away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy. We must be more energy-efficient. We must return to and modernize more sustainable farming methods.

As environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote last week on 350.org: “The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.”

CARY BRUNSWICK is a columnist for The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. Contact him at   brunswick@earthling.net.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Bangladesh’s sweatshops — a boycott is not the answer

    One year ago this week, the eight-story Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, killing 1,129 people. The building’s top floors had been added illegally, and their weight caused the lower stories to buckle. Many of the victims were young women who had been sewing low-priced clothes for Western brands, earning a minimum wage of about $9 a week. It was the worst disaster in garment industry history.

    April 24, 2014

  • Loosening constraints on campaign donations and spending doesn’t destroy democracy

    Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics.
    In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy.
    This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons.

    April 23, 2014

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 23, 2014

  • Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

    Many supporters of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade agreement are arguing that its fate rests on President Obama’s bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan this week. If Japan and the United States can sort out market access issues for agriculture and automobiles, the wisdom goes, this huge deal — in effect, a North American Free Trade Agreement on steroids — can at last be concluded.

    April 22, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 22, 2014

  • Chicago Tribune: If Walgreen Co. moves its HQ to Europe, blame Washington’s tax failure

    The Walgreen Co. drugstore chain got its start nearly a century ago in downstate Dixon, Ill., before moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago and eventually to north suburban Deerfield, Ill.
    Next stop? Could be Bern, Switzerland.
    A group of shareholders reportedly is pressuring the giant retail chain for a move to the land of cuckoo clocks. The reason: lower taxes. Much lower taxes.
    If Walgreen changes its legal domicile to Switzerland, where it recently acquired a stake in European drugstore chain Alliance Boots, the company could save big bucks on its corporate income-tax bill. The effective U.S. income-tax rate for Walgreen, according to analysts at Swiss Bank UBS: 37 percent. For Alliance Boots: about 20 percent.

    April 21, 2014

  • Sulphur a future major tourist destination?

    Greta Garbo says, “I want to be alone,” in the 1932 film “Grand Hotel.” That MGM film starred Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and a young actress from Lawton named Joan Crawford. It told the stories of several different people who were staying at an exclusive hotel of that name in Berlin Germany.
    It was critically well received and it inspired more recent films such as “Gosford Park” and television shows such as “Downton Abbey” in that it detailed the relationship between powerful and wealthy people and those who served them. The film opened amidst much fanfare and it received the Oscar for best picture in the year of its release.

    April 21, 2014

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results