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First Person

Climate Inaction: With climate change, it’s up to communities to save themselves

November 30, 2011, 12:00 am

Don’t believe in climate change? Congratulations. But this isn’t the Rapture. Whether you believe or not, you’re coming along for the ride. This means that, if you live in New Mexico, you’re going to experience higher temperatures, worsening drought conditions, conifer forest die-offs and variable precipitation.
I was reminded of all this while attending the recent Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change, sponsored in part by Los Alamos National Laboratory. 


Sitting next to Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, as he readied for his presentation, I was also reminded that, in the United States, charlatans and industry-funded hacks are still allowed to share the stage with scientists. 


Noted for his obfuscatory talks aimed at discrediting climate data and challenging what he calls the “intellectual dishonesty” of climate scientists, Monckton stayed true to form at the LANL conference, playing with numbers, shrugging off serious questions and suggesting that scientists were noting rises in global temperature only because it’s a trendy idea and they’re out to grab gads of funding.  


Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by Monckton’s presence: One of the conference committee members was LANL’s Petr Chylek, who in 2009 took the climate science community to task for blaming global warming trends on human activity.


(So much for the notion that the lab could someday transition away from nuclear weapons and become a “green” laboratory. Infrastructure issues aside, the lab isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of science when it comes to the planet’s most pressing “green” issue.)


Despite what economists and even insurance company executives worldwide are saying, Monckton asserted that addressing climate change is not cost-effective. “By orders of magnitude,” he concluded, “it’s more expensive to act than not to act.”


Monckton’s do-nothing approach stands in stark contrast to that of author and activist Bill McKibben, who a few days later spoke at the Quivira Coalition conference with William deBuys, who just recently wrote A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.


The two spoke of the changes that have already occurred—temperature increases, melting sea ice and expanding tropics—but also of what deBuys called the “ethics of community.” 


Now more than ever, both men agreed, people should heal divisions and work together. “The unbearable beauty of the land, the beauty of the planet, need to continue to drive us,” deBuys said. “We need to do whatever we can to bring our polity back.”


This week in South Africa, the United Nations will convene its 17th annual meeting on climate change. While islanders experiencing rising seas beg for help, and developing countries seek ways to build their economies without relying on fossil fuels, the US and Saudi Arabia now oppose a $100 billion fund agreed upon in 2009 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Revealed just days before the meetings began, the move is devastating. But it shouldn’t be surprising.
Last year, the Democrat-controlled Congress refused to pass even tepid climate change legislation, and this year, none of the Republican presidential candidates acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. On top of that, The Washington Post reports that Congress recently barred the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from creating a “one-stop” website for climate information. The proposal wouldn’t have required additional funding, yet Congress still opposed it. 


Witnessing the actions of US officials and lawmakers, it’s clear that the planet lacks international leadership on climate change. 


It’s also sobering to realize that New Mexicans have more in common with developing nations than we likely realize. Like Pacific Islanders staring down rising seas, Southwesterners are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. And yet the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has made it clear that state government won’t be proactive on climate change. 


With politicians on both sides of the aisle—from President Barack Obama to Martinez—undermining the seriousness of the issue, it’s more important than ever to heed the advice of people, such as McKibben and deBuys, who call for civility.


“Everyplace, there are good people trying to figure out how to try and stop the worst thing that could ever happen,” McKibben said in early November. “Everyplace around the world, there are rooms like this one, full of people trying to figure out what to do to make it better.”


In fact, on Dec. 14, the City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County and the US Bureau of Reclamation will host an interactive workshop to discuss the future of the Santa Fe watershed, its water supply and the potential impacts of climate change on both. As of press time, the details were still being hammered out, but so far, only real scientists are on the agenda. 


For more information, email the City of Santa Fe’s Claudia Borchert at cborchert@santafenm.gov.

 

 
11.30.2011 at 11:03 | Reply |

We may not be able to sustain the current general standard of living due to climate change, not to mention falling oil production, increasing economic disparity due to plutocratic government and economy etc.  All those rapidly occuring happings can be reiieved by  localizing the economy to become a more self-reliant community.  We can shop in local stores, establish local energy, health, and food and water institutions that reduce our dependance on imported goods and services. Depending on the federal government to continue lavish the military-related installations that now are a large part of our economy won't cut it.  For example, the several billion dollar proposed CMRR-NF facility for LANL will produce no permanent jobs, food, water, or health benefits. Multistate megacorporations, even our own state government, won't be rescuing us. Clearly, it is up to us, the people, We can put us on a much greater renewable-resource basis with less contributions to climate change, and share the benefits equitably if we get started before it's too late, meaning now.

 

12.01.2011 at 11:10 | Reply |

An excellent piece.  Finally some sense.  Not an abysmal "we're all done for" bit, but a "you may not believe in it, but it believes in you."  Maybe America is the last country on Earth to refuse to believe in global climate instability because it financially benefits in the short term from business as usual, but in the end we will have to deal with it.  Let those of us who do start preparing.

 

12.02.2011 at 12:33 | Reply |
dbg

Right on the mark.

Here in California we've got amazing wind storms lashing the state. Today I almost ran over a snake that was sunning itself on a bike path. Snake. In December. Cold blooded reptiles sunning themselves in 80 degree weather, in the "winter."

It's here.

 

12.02.2011 at 03:00 | Reply |

 

I was sent your recent piece on Climate Change in which you commented on the above conference.  I have studied this subject for nearly 25 years and am retired from the Lab, but have kept up on the subject, having published several large reviews.  (My take is that human-caused global warming is real and will continue taking the climate into regions that might be harmful to society.)  I can send you my latest review if you wish.

I was Director of the Lab Branch of the UC's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and was one of the a group that pioneered the Lab's atmospheric and ocean programs back in the 1980s.  (I recently gave a talk to the Los Alamos Historical Society on the development of non-Defense research at LANL.)  

 

And, in fact, the Lab is moving to greener programs.  For example, LANL's contributions to study of global warming are significant and growing.  Consider this:

The NSF/DOE climate model (Community Climate Systems Model) which is among the best in the world, gets all of its ocean and sea ice model development at LANL!  LANL is also doing research on CO2 mitigation, use of algae as a potential source of hydrocarbons (sustainable because the algae take up the same amount of carbon as they emit)., etc.

 

Thus, I and others at the Lab have been uncomfortable with the format of LANL's climate conferences in bringing climate critics in to have their say.  (Here I note that Monckton was not invited but volunteered to come on his own.)  I attended all the sessions and participated quite a bit as well as giving a paper on the latest on solar activity forcing of climate.  I am now drafting a summary of the conference which saw a complex of poor science, good science and excellent science.  While it did not attract the "top" climate scientists, there were excellent ones to partially balance the critics.  And to be fair some of the points some of the critics made are well worth looking into.  So the Monctons and similar attendees aside, I found the conference pretty stimulating.  It also had another advantage not usually seen at such conferences--it brought together scientists on both sides of the issues in a largely non-confrontational venue where they could feel freer to exchange ideas and opinions, which they did especially at the longish breaks (sitting around tables just chatting).  After all, isn't this the way science is supposed to work with the healthy interplay of ideas and information leading to the best solutions?

 

On the larger scene, I agree that governments are unlikely to move quickly enough to head off expected warming and our best hope is in local efforts.  I also note that an increasing number of businesses are learning that conservation saves $$ and new technologies make money.  So I'm not totally pessimistic.  Bill McKibben (I attended his talk) however makes the disturbing point (in his book "Eaarth") that we seem to be seeing effects of the warming that were previously thought not to occur until the climate was warmer.  Thus, time is running out even faster than we had hoped.  Countering this is the growing opinion that human greenhouse gases may not be warming the planet quite as fast as thought perhaps giving us another 10 years to come up to speed.  This all, or course is a Societal problem not a scientific one, and I've no real expertise on what to do about the warming.

 

 

 

12.03.2011 at 04:13 | Reply |
JC

 

While this article is spot-on about the realities of global warming and the stalling tactics of special interest groups, it misses a great opportunity to expose the most egregious threat of climate stability and environmental protection this planet faces.

 

Animal agriculture and commercial fishing are at, or near, the top of every environmental list requiring immediate action. Massive in-depth reports from the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization, the UN's Environment Programme, the Worldwatch Institute and many other reputable research organizations are calling for people around the world to reduce, or eliminate, their consumption of animal products if they are serious about climate stabilization.

 

The chorus is growing daily and the refrain is getting louder and louder. Nothing we can do, as individuals, is as effective as switching to a plant-based diet. Ten years down the line, if you want to be seen as a “visionary” and be part of the solution, stop consuming all animal products today.

 

12.13.2011 at 05:32

I am astonished at the high level of thought and observation that was revealed in three of the letters that were published in the Dec. 7-13 issue of the Santa Fe Reporter. I am especially thrilled with the two letters “Animal Instincts” and “Dazed Grazing” [opinion].


Thank you so very much for choosing to print these highlights on ethical, compassionate, environmentally sound messages that we humans must all heed. I would love seeing future issues focusing on the need for our species to adopt the vegan and vegetarian diets…including all reasons—from spiritual through ecological, health and restoration of stolen land and water to indigenous people and wildlife.


As for that other letter, the hate diatribe against one of the most incredibly talented groups of artists and creative talents anywhere (and this includes major cities), Meow Wolf, well, this is just repugnant…We are so fortunate to have this band of youths based in our small hamlet, especially as so many teens and young adults are lacking so much that is culturally stimulating and inspiring, fun and imaginative, and all-inclusively, democratically free.

 

 
 
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