May 11, 2008

America's Lousy Greendex

More good news from James Hansen, America's foremost climatologist:

"Our conclusion is that, if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, CO2 must be reduced from its present 385 ppm (parts per million) to, at most, 350 ppm. "

Thus, from an upcoming issue of Science magazine. I think Mr. Hansen, that valiant scientist who has managed to sound the alarm despite all the helpful editing from Bush Administration lawyers like Philip Cooney who, while lacking any scientific training, have learned enough from dealing in unrelated fields like securities law to blur the impact of any otherwise clear communication. We keep getting reminded that we've blown eight years, and in the years to come names like George W. Bush, Cooney and Senator James Inhofe, that Tulsa business school-educated climatologist, will live in infamy because of their obstruction.

But I believe James Hansen has found just the right formulation of the problem to reach all sectors of society with the essential issue we face. It's not really a matter of whether human beings, as a tribe or species, will survive at all if CO2 concentrations keep climbing beyond the present 385 ppm. The point is that civilization in its present configuration depends on a certain set of favorable conditions, including fairly predictable air temperatures, rainfall patterns, an ocean capable of absorbing excess CO2 (not acid saturated as it is now), a functional Gulf Stream and other features of the not-too-distant past. We're now moving past the various tipping points, such as Arctic melting which exposes dark seawater to solar radiation, massive marine die-off, the thawing of trapped methane in tundra areas, and other unhealthy trends. If we want to avoid the worst effects and restore a semblance of the previous favorable mise-en-scene (no accent grave available; je suis desole - no accent agout either; oops, no circumflex accent either; what's up with Microsoft Word, anyway?), we need to reverse the pattern of CO2 increase and move back down to 350 ppm. This level is already 70 ppm over pre-Industrial levels, but 'tis good enough, 'twill serve.

National Geographic has conducted a "Greendex" survey among industrialized countries to determine which of the peoples of the Earth practice the most eco-friendly behavior patterns and leave the smallest carbon footprint. You can take the test individually, too, at America scored dead last among the 14 countries surveyed, with a score in the 44 range, versus countries like Brazil which are very environmentally conscious. Naturally, it's one of our psychological displacement strategies to go on and on about rain forests in Brazil and pride ourselves on not building an entire house out of Brazilian rosewood, for example, while ignoring simpler issues like not eating so damn much meat. Brazil scores upwards of 55 on the test, but we also lag behind China and India because of our wastrel ways. I scored 57 and I'm really doing a lot of things wrong. In general, all this country would need to do is to get serious about train transportation, place-specific photovoltaics, plug-in electric cars, the cessation of all discretionary airplane travel, and mass development of renewable energy (wind power and photovoltaic desert arrays) and we'd be the best in the world. I mean, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Meanwhile, I pass along the noble effort of Bill McKibben to raise public consciousness of James Hansen's warning with his

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