Climate Change: Data And Demonstrations. Will Politicians Respond? Or Dither And Delay?

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Departure from normal of summer (June-August) 2014 temperatures shows a sea of red (above normal) over land and sea. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

Departure from normal of summer (June-August) 2014 temperatures shows a sea of red (above normal) over land and sea. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

 

The data pile up, and now people have taken to the streets to call attention to the threat of climate change and demand that international cooperation on a solution begin.

The climate summit September 23 at the UN is entirely for show: No agreements will be reached. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who called for the meeting,  knows that.

His purpose is to focus governments on the upcoming climate change conference in December of 2015, which may be the last chance, according to most climatologists, to avert substantial — and possibly calamitous — changes to the earth’s climate.

Temperature Data: Roll Over Beethoven, The Temperature’s Risin’

The combined land and sea temperature for the summer of 2014 (meteorological summer: June, July, August) was the hottest on record. Ditto for August alone. These are just more data that show what everybody knows: the earth is getting hotter — and at an alarming rate.

Nor is there any doubt why: increasing greenhouse gases.

And the increase in greenhouse gases clearly comes mainly from burning hydrocarbons.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide’s Rising, Too

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured over 400 ppm for part of 2014 on Mauna Loa. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured over 400 ppm for part of 2014 on Mauna Loa. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

The fours are running wild with respect to carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas produced when human beings burn fossil fuels. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was recently measured at over 400 parts per million (ppm) on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii for the first time.

Though this was a seasonal high, there is little doubt that the average CO2 concentration will surpass 400 ppm in 2015.

UK researchers recently reported that the global emission of carbon dioxide in 2013 was 39.8 billion tons. More important: this was a 2.5% increase from the previous year, and it means the emissions will surely exceed 40 billion tons in 2014.

This is in spite of all the international attention focused on the problem, and the attempts in the past to curtail emissions.

Climate Demonstrations: Roll Over Beethoven And Tell World Leaders The News

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in New York and other cities around the world on Sunday to demand action on climate change.

Will this demonstration of popular support for international action lead to binding agreements that will actually reverse the trend of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Or will it go the way of Occupy Wall Street?

The UN Climate Conference, September 23, 2014

Heads of state or other high-ranking government officials  from 120 countries will convene on Tuesday at the United Nations. The slogan of the conference is ‘catalyst for change.’

It’s an unfortunate but apt name: A catalyst is, by one definition, ‘something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.’ Most countries would like to help other countries cut emissions without doing anything themselves.

The intractable attitudes that have frustrated all attempts to reach international agreement on climate change are: those with the good life are unwilling to do anything that would alter it; and those who don’t yet have the good life don’t want any interference with their getting it.

Here’s an awkward question for the demonstrators: How many will go home and turn on the lights, charge their phones, and drive a two-ton vehicle to the grocery store to transport three pounds of food home?

Similarly, how many in the developing world will agree not to build any more coal-fired power plants which would assure them a steady supply of electricity?

The last meeting like the one scheduled for December, 2015, in Kyoto in 1997, ended with no binding agreements on greenhouse gas emissions. Some voluntary reductions have taken place, but judging by the 2.5% increase in global emissions from 2012 to 2013, these changes are inadequate.

The negotiations in 2015 will be difficult and contentious. Perhaps by that time the dire effects of failing to act will be obvious. And there are precedents for international cooperation on matters of urgency.

Rays of Hope: Some Examples of Global Cooperation

  • Nuclear Weapons

This one was really a no-brainer. Yet it wasn’t obvious in the 1950s that nuclear war could be averted. Now, even testing of nuclear weapons is prohibited.

  • Chlorofluorocarbons

The hole in the ozone layer caused by certain refrigerants was considered sufficiently dangerous for countries to ban chlorofluorocarbons worldwide.

Whether the countries of the world can respond responsibly to the climate crisis will be determined soon. Now would be a good time to start, but December, 2015 is better late than never.

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