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March 29 2012

21:03

Closing in on Climate Tipping Points: Irreversible Climate Change, Managing the Risk and Learning to Adapt


Could the warnings be any clearer? Climate tipping points are upon us and adaptation as will as mitigation are key to grappling with global warmingIn the past days and weeks several scientific reports indicate that, even while advocating a 1.5 to 2 C degree rise in average global temperatures over the next century, we may now be at or even passed critical tipping points and heading into a world of irreversible global warming.

Earlier this month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report warning that without more ambitious climate policies to counter the rising dominance of global fossil fuel in the energy mix, greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050. By mid-century energy demand will increase by 80 percent from what it is today. But without aggressive action to adopt to more sustainable energy sources, the energy mix will look much as it does today.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the OECD said in its environment outlook to 2050.

The OECD report states that international climate action needs to begin in earnest by 2013. The cost of inaction far outweigh the cost of climate action, says the report, and a business-as-usual approach could lead to a reduction of global economic output of 14 percent by mid-century. Also at risk is political stability in climate and resources-stressed areas of the world as well as an increase in human suffering, much of it in the developing world.

Climate scientists this week reinforced the OECD findings, warning that we are now in a “critical decade” beyond which tipping points will likely be crossed, making irreversible dramatic climate shifts such as melting ice caps and loss of rainforest.

Indeed some of  tipping points may have already been crossed, especially for the world’s glaciers and ice caps. Oceans are now so saturated with carbon that they are now more acidic than at any time in the past 60 millions years and can’t absorb much more carbon.

“This is the critical decade,” said Will Steffen, one of the 2800 climate scientists attending the Planet Under Pressure Conference this week in London. “If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines. The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in history,” says Professor Steffen.

“Many human activities reached take-off points sometime in the 20th Century and sharply accelerated towards the end of the century. It is the scale and speed of the Great Acceleration that is truly remarkable. This has largely happened within one human lifetime.” Steffen is executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University.

Despite the mounting evidence and urgency of the message, the international community remain mostly stalled on climate action. The latest round of international negotiations at the COP17 conference late last year in South Africa leaves nations until 2015 to sign any binding agreement that won’t take effect until 2020 – that’s the best case scenario and clearly not enough if the world is to heed scientists’ warning.

 IPCC report on managing climate risk, learning to adapt

Where mitigation fails, adaptation must become a core strategy. Once seen by some climate activists as a “cop-out” in lieu real action, adaptation is now an inevitability, says the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), released yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century,” the IPCC said in a press release.

“Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks can produce climate-related disasters,” says the SREX report.

“While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not. Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events.”

Building resilient communities able to withstand and recover from severe storms, floods, drought, and heat waves are now a critical component in dealing with long-term climate change. Mitigation is needed to offset the most disastrous consequences of global warming, but to a large extent, the “horse has already left the barn.” Without effective adaptation policies, there is a much higher risk of catastrophic economic loss and social collapse.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty.”

We guard against many risks in our daily lives. The convergence of messages just in the past few weeks of climate scientists from across the globe serve as a clear warning that now is the time to meet the challenge of an unsustainable energy economy and climate change through cooperation and action, to both mitigate and adapt to a warming world.

Image credit: Celsias.com

December 20 2011

22:31

US Needs to Be Better Prepared for Extreme Weather, Ecological Changes Resulting from Climate Change


Ecological changes in the 21st Century

Climate change will cause changes in plant communities across nearly half the Earth’s land surface by 2100, driving conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type – forest, grassland or tundra – toward another, according to a new computer study conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The study’s results may put what’s been a record year for US weather-related disasters in a much broader perspective. While it’s impossible to draw a causal link between any one weather event and global warming or climate change, climate change is probably increasing the intensity of some disasters, such as the Texas drought, according to experts from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Addressing attendees at a briefing on Capitol Hill, AAAS’s representatives said that regardless of cause, the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters is increasing, which is causing greater financial losses than ever. They cautioned that governments and societies need to be better prepared, according to an Insurance News Net report.

Mounting Financial Costs of Climate Change

It’s not useful to debate whether or not climate change exacerbated by humans caused or causes any particular weather event Jay Gulledge, a senior scientist at the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), told Insurance News Net, adding that statistical trends are consistent with scientists’ expectations of climate change.

Texas state climatologist and Texas A&M professor of atmospheric science John Nielsen-Gammon noted that La Niña was the triggering event for this year’s drought in Texas, which is expected to last through next summer. He added that climate change likely intensified the drought by adding about 1 degree Fahrenheit to annual average temperatures in the state. Drought as severe as this year’s could be more likely as a result of ongoing climate change, he added, although more research is needed to confirm that.

Ultimately, increasingly severe and frequent weather events pose a serious risk management problem for public officials and society, and we need to be better prepared, Gulledge said. “This is a risk problem, and we have to manage it as a risk problem,” he said at the 2 December briefing, which was entitled, Drowning and Drought: Extreme Weather Impacts on Our Economy and Society.

JPL-Caltech Climate Change Study

The parts of Earth not covered by land or desert are projected to undergo a 3o percent change in plant cover at minimum, and that means humans as well as plants and animals will need to adapt and in many cases relocate.

JPL and Cal Tech researchers, who investigated how plant life on Earth is likely to react over the next three centuries in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases, published their findings in the journal Climatic Change.

The results show rising emissions will increase ecological stress and change in Earth’s biosphere, with growing numbers of plant and animal species competing for survival. Species turnover will be significant, as some species invade areas occupied by others, according to the researchers’ report.

Besides altering plant communities, “the study predicts that climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles,” according to JPL’s news release.

“For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change,” said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. “Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it’s the ecological consequences that matter most.”

Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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November 09 2011

19:28

Combating the Culture of Climate Change Denial


Overcoming a culture that pits Man against natureThe failure to accept the anthropogenic origins of climate change may be partly attributable to a fallacy of modern culture. Popular culture pits us against nature which in turn undermines efforts to curtail climate change.

Man versus nature is one of seven conflicts in literary studies, it relates to the theme in literature that places a character against the forces of nature. Many disaster films and survival stories deal with the theme of man’s alienation from nature. As reflected in surveys on climate change about half of Americans are estranged from nature.

Americans are also dangerously divided on the urgency of climate change. According to a 2011 report from GfK and SC , even though the environment is an economic issue, a majority of Americans (52%) accept trading environmental protection for economic development to maintain their standard of living.

The human role in climate change is the most controversial subject of the 21st century even though the issue has been settled. Writing in WIREs Climate Change, Dr Kevin Trenberth, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research which seeks to disprove the human role. “Humans are changing our climate. There is no doubt whatsoever,” said Trenberth.

Almost 5 years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report indicated that global warming is “unequivocal”, and is “very likely” due to human activities. Since then, attempts at large scale climate regulation have failed at a number of levels.

Even the few scientists who previously resisted man-made climate change are increasingly being swayed by the overwhelming body of evidence. People like the Koch brothers work hard to resist the science supporting global warming, yet even scientists paid by this climate denying duo are finding it hard to ignore the findings of their own research.

At the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the concentration of the greenhouse gas CO2 was at 360 parts per million (ppm). In the 20 years since, it has risen to 390 ppm, and that number is continuing to grow with no end in sight.

We have not seen climate and energy legislation in the U.S. and the U.N. has failed to produce a binding emissions agreement. When combined with the imminent expiration of the Kyoto protocol at the end of 2012 it makes a bad situation worse.

Despite a sluggish global economy, the latest calculations from the U.S. Department of Energy indicate that CO2 emissions have risen sharply in 2009 and 2010.

Under these circumstances, Jochem Marotzke, the head of the German Climate Consortium, believes we are “on a course of development with CO2 emissions that makes the 2-degrees goal more and more illusory.” Politicians are not willing to face up to the realities and take action. “This reluctance will bring about fatal results,” Marotzke said.

Climate change denial is a major obstacle impeding action. According to a book written by Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State, organized denial has succeeded in blocking domestic legislation. These authors have indicated that deniers make it nearly impossible to get responsible climate legislation in the U.S. This is the point they make in their book, “Climate Change Denial Machine” in a chapter titled, “Organized Climate Change Denial.”

“We have argued that because of the perceived threat posed by climate change to their interests, actors in the denial machine have strived to undermine scientific evidence documenting its reality and seriousness. Over the past two decades they have engaged in an escalating assault on climate science and scientists, and in recent years on core scientific practices, institutions and knowledge. Their success in these efforts not only threatens our capacity to understand and monitor human-induced ecological disruptions from the local to global levels (Hanson 2010), but it also weakens an essential component of societal reflexivity when the need for the latter is greater than ever.”

To succeed in auguring the major changes required it may not be enough to communicate the facts. One of the salient factors compounding climate change denial concerns the state of disconnection between humans and nature. Western culture opposes nature and is defined by consumerism and anthropocentrism. We have been brainwashed by the idea that the natural world is there for our exploitation. Pop culture reinforces the cleavage between people and the natural environment.

If we are to save the planet we need to better understand the overarching significance of nature. We need to review our propensity for over-consumption and we need to reevaluate our homocentric tendencies. In its simplest essence, we need to understand that the Earth is more than a reservoir of raw materials; it is the indispensable substrate of our lives.

We are under the illusion that man is not part of the fabric of the natural world and this is blinding people to the need for urgent action. Although we may be disconnected from nature, this detachment is a matter of choice, and connection can always be recovered.

Until we deal with the failings of a culture that pits man against nature, we will not marshal the support required to fully engage the battle against climate change.

——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Facebook – Earth2100

September 28 2011

18:26

Who Are Climate Change Deniers and who are Friends of the Earth?


Defining who are climate change deniers and who are friends of the EarthWho are the people who deny climate change science and who supports efforts to combat environmental degradation? There is a stark contrast between those who deny climate change and those who support a healthier environment.

Overall, deniers tend to be conservative white males over 50, and while friends of the environment tend to be much more diverse, they tend to be younger and more educated. Those who support efforts to combat climate change are students, scientists, and professionals, climate change deniers are personified by groups like the Tea Party.

Those involved in the environmental movement are likely to be white collar professionals with at least a college education. These people tend to have a reverence for the outdoors, nature and its diversity. Living in harmony with the planet is an organic offshoot of respect for the natural world. These people see the value of a closed cycle of use, they see the value of products made from reclaimed, recycled, or sustainably produced materials. By contrast, deniers tend to be more self-centered, cynical and materialistic.

As the environmental culture permeates all walks of life, it becomes nearly impossible to find and define a “green” demographic. The once small cluster of “environmentalists” is now part of a larger population, spilling over into a wide range of age groups as well as educational and socioeconomic levels. Dedicated environmentalists are highly informed and have a wide range of concerns that encompass greenhouse effects, global warming, disappearing rain forests, sustainability, renewable energy, air and water pollution, and much more. 

To help understand the types of organizations and individuals who support the environment, consider those who were involved with the September 26 action against the Tar Sands and Keystone XL pipeline in Ottawa, Canada. Although there was the predictable involvement of environmental groups, there were also a number of other supporters like the Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ), National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), Science for Peace, Voice of Women, as well as widespread involvement of the First Nations people. It is organizations like the United Nations who support efforts to combat climate change while oil industry barons like the Koch brothers support America’s addiction to oil.

Individual participation in Ottawa on September 26 came from actors and musicians as well as a number of individuals like James Hansen (internationally renowned Climate Scientist), Dr. Danny Harvey (University of Toronto Professor and Lead Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Gordon Laxer (Professor of Political Economy), Clayton Ruby (Criminal Lawyer and Member of the Order of Canada),  Graeme Gibson (Author and Member of the Order of Canada), James Kamau (Director, Youth Initiative Canada), Judy Rebick (Journalist, Political Activist and Feminist), Kai Nagata (Ex-CTV Bureau Chief and journalist), Naomi Klein (Author and Journalist), Tony Clarke (Author and Director of the Polaris Institute), and Tzeporah Berman (Author and Activist)

According to a U.S. study of sex, skin color and political ideology, climate change deniers tend to be white male conservatives. This is the finding of a new study published in the July, 2011 in an issue of the Journal of Global Environmental Change.

Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University in East Lansing and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater write in Global Environmental Change: “The most prominent denialists are conservative white males…Conservative white males are significantly more likely than are other Americans to endorse denialist views.”

Despite the fact that 97 percent of scientists acknowledge anthropogenic global warming, almost one third of conservative white males (29.6 percent) said they believed that the effects of global warming will never happen. Only 7.4 percent of all other U.S. adults agreed with that view.

The results also showed that 58.5 percent of conservative white males denied that recent temperature increases are primarily caused by human activities, compared to only 31.5 percent of all other adults. Dunlap and McCright noted the results show that conservative white males “are more likely than other adults to reject the scientific consensus on climate change,” and this might explain why 58.8 percent of this group “deny the existence of a scientific consensus,” compared to only 35.5 percent of other adults.

Conservative white males (65.1 percent) were also more than twice as likely to say the media exaggerated the seriousness of climate change compared to other adults (29.9 percent). Furthermore, 39.1 percent of conservative white males said they did not worry at all about global warming, compared to 14.4 percent of all other adults.

Although the views of conservative white males are at odds with the science, they tend to believe they have a stronger understanding of global warming than other adults. The greater they believe their own understanding to be, the more likely they were to be strong deniers. “This, of course, seems an untenable self-assessment,” the authors write, “given that conservative white males are more likely than are other adults to reject the current scientific consensus.”

Deniers remain convinced, even though they have been repeatedly proven wrong. For example, deniers challenged the BBC’s coverage of the science of climate change, but were undeterred even after a major review of its science coverage vindicated the UK based news source.

There is a widening Republican-Democratic gap on climate change. Rather than rely on the scientific evidence, deniers disparage science and are partisan and ideological.

Clive Hamilton, the author of a book titled Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change said US climate denial “has now become a marker of cultural identity in the ‘angry’ parts of the United States…Climate denial has been incorporated in the broader movement of right-wing populism,” he said, a movement that has “a visceral loathing of environmentalism.”

On the question of whether they believed the effects of global warming were already happening or not, the percentage of self-identified Republicans or conservatives answering “yes” plummeted from almost 50 percent in 2007-2008 to 30 percent or less in 2010, while liberals and Democrats remained at 70 percent or more, according to the study in this spring’s Sociological Quarterly. A similar left-right gap was found by A Pew Research Center poll last October, entitled Global Warming: Why Americans Are In Denial.

Those who see the importance of the environment and are concerned about the future of the planet include people like former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and world diplomat George Mitchell. Mitchell recently said he’s confident “reason and logic” will ultimately “prevail.”

“We’ve all seen environmental protection used as a scapegoat for whatever society’s problems are, but it will not last,” he said during his keynote address. “I believe this anti-science movement will fade away over time. Remember, it took a long time for people to realize the world is not flat.”

Mitchell argued that the public should resist the “false choice” between environmental protection and economic development, saying the economic benefits to society realized by Environmental Protection Agency regulations far exceed the costs to implement them.

As James Powell explains in his book The Inquisition of Climate Science, “The American people … should remember that science denial is not free. History teaches us that it can bear a heavy cost in dollars and in human lives.”

In May 2011 the US National Academy of Sciences declared that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks…. The environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.” One hundred other national and international scientific organizations agree with the NAS and none dissented.  As one scientist put it, “There’s a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know—except maybe Newton’s second law of dynamics.”

However, the U.S. House of Representatives continues to dispute the science. In April, all but one Republican in the House voted against an amendment that states the “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”

Climate denial is a core element of the platforms of Republicans.  Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) accused liberals of creating “a beautifully concocted scheme because they know the earth is going to cool and warm.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) denounced climate change as “the greatest hoax in many, many years if not hundreds of years.” Newt Gingrich, said that climate change is just “the newest excuse to take control of lives” by “left-wing intellectuals.”

On the floor of the House in 2009, Bachman denied that CO2 posed a threat because “Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature.” The one-woman thesaurus calls global warming, “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

In August 2011, even though Texas was experiencing the worst heat and drought in the state’s history, Gov. Rick Perry told a New Hampshire crowd that “a substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry added, “We’re seeing weekly, or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what’s causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed.” This from a man who believes that the Earth was formed only a few thousand years ago.

As reviewed in a Climate Progress interview with James Powell, the author of The Inquisition of Climate Science , the “debate” about global warming has been hijacked by denialists who rely on demagoguery rather than science. As stated in the interview, deniers repeat claims long after scientists have shown them to be false and make assertions without presenting any evidence to back them up.  They have no scientific findings that falsify global warming.

Conservatives like Sarah Palin dismiss global warming as fiction. Presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann, a U.S. Congresswoman from Minnesota, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have derided climate change science.  If America elects a Republican like Perry, it will delay serious action to reduce carbon emissions until the 2020s, which is likely too late to avoid the tipping point of runaway global warming.

Deniers have no respect for science, in fact they do everything in their power to distance themselves from science. This is not merely a matter of political convictions, the confusion of deniers is a threat to us all. “The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows,” concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

Deniers are angry and irrational, their vitriol is ratcheted up in the face of the facts.. Their resistance to the facts can be compared to the kind of evil evident at the Salem witchcraft trials, McCarthyism and other periods of mass hysteria, where belief in scientific facts are eclipsed by dogmatic convictions. For deniers, their beliefs take precedence over reality. “Eventually it’ll become damned clear that the Earth is warming and the warming is beyond anything we have experienced in millions of years, and people will have to admit…” Climate change deniers are the chief impediment to progress and their resistance will have major implications for the economy and the planet.
——————
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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December 02 2010

19:10

The Climate Change Divide: Have We Reached a Political Tipping Point?


Are we at a political tipping point with global warming?Despite overwhelming physical evidence of anthropogenic climate change, and a definite of majority (97 percent) of scientists who agree that human activities are causing the climate to change, in the latest poll from the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who believe in climate change, particularly Republicans, has decreased dramatically since 2006.

In 2006, 79 percent of Americans believed there was evidence of global warming and 50% said it was caused by human activity. 61 percent felt it required immediate action. 59 percent said scientists agreed that the cause was human activity.  Only 29 percent said that scientists did not agree.

Now in 2010, 59 percent of American adults believe that there is evidence that the planet has been warming over the past decades, and 34 percent state that it is mostly caused by human activity. 32 percent see global warming as a serious problem, while 31 percent think it is somewhat serious. The public is also divided as to whether scientists themselves are in agreement that the planet is warming as a result of human activity – only 44 percent say that scientists agree, and 44 percent say that they do not.

While 80 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents state that there is solid evidence of climate change, with 34 percent believing that it is a result of human activities only 53 percent of Republicans say that there is no evidence of climate change whatsoever.

70 percent of those Republicans who were on board with the Tea Party movement were “much more likely…to say there is no solid evidence,” and “do not think that the earth’s temperature has been rising.” (Of the Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Partiers, only 38 percent hold this view.) 50 percent of the Tea Partiers  do not see global warming as any sort of problem and 71 percent believe that scientist do not agree as to whether or not human activity is the cause of global warming.

Evidence and perception diverge

This all during a year of climate disasters, of extreme weather – record breaking temperatures, heat waves, floods, and droughts. In the past century, sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches, and glaciers and ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates. On the Antarctic Peninsula, 90 percent of the glaciers are in retreat, and winter temperatures have soared by 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Habitats are shifting and seasonal cycles are changing, endangering countless species of plants and animals.

NOAA has reported that planet has been warming significantly, a full 1 degree Fahrenheit, over the last 50 years, that each of the past three decades was warmer than the last, and the 2000s is the warmest decade in recorded history. According to NASA, 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

Furthermore, the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — about 390 parts per million — is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years.

So, as the evidence has become alarmingly apparent year after year, why are the numbers of Americans who believe in climate change decreasing? When even prior climate change deniers poster boys Bjorn Lomberg and Fran Luntz have seen the light – or rather the heat.

Granted, the economy has taken its toll. These days, when countless Americans are focused on how to keep or get a job, concerned with how to feed their families, any other threats, especially those that are not immediately in one’s face, do not seem so urgent or significant. Moreover, the changes due to global warming are gradual, subtle, and much more pronounced in regions like Antarctica, where most Americans never go, much less even think about.

As Fen Montaigne writes:

“If such  profound changes (those occurring at the Antarctica peninsula) had come to our temperate zones over the last few decades – if average winter temps in New York City had soared a dozen degrees, if our oaks and maples were being replaced by palms, if sea levels had risen half a dozen feet – chances are the public would not be so indifferent to our warming world and many politicians would not be denying that climate is changing because of human activity.”

A tipping point?

And yet, they are. Have we reached the political tipping point in regards to climate change? Has the intensely divisive nature of our two party system, created two separate and not necessarily equal Americas? Even the news media is now as divided, and in parroting their own party line, they relay completely different views of the issues, of the world, of reality altogether.

A Yale/George Mason University poll released this past summer found similar results whereas a large number of those who considered themselves conservative, and/or part of the Tea Party movement, were either doubtful or dismissive about global warming, and those who considered themselves alarmed or concerned identified themselves as Democrats or liberals.  This poll also revealed that the news media consumed by those considered “alarmists” and those “dismissive” regarding climate change, were completely different – i.e. Fox News or MSNBC.

That said, what one may deduce from these polls is that Americans overall are NOT ignorant nor apathetic when it comes to climate change – only some, maybe half, of us, and mostly the Tea Party members of the Republican party. That’s the good news. The bad news, well, it is those Republicans, who as of this past Fall, have completely changed our political landscape, which may just have a direct effect upon our cultural, and our physical landscape, as well.

According to the blog Think Progress, 50 percent of the freshmen Republicans entering Congressdeny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change and increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers,” including longtime climate denier, and BP apologist, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

Nevertheless, though opinions about and reactions to climate change are in stark contradiction between party lines, we all still live on the same planet, like it or not. When the seas and rivers rise, and the heartland turns to dust bowls, when the winter and summers are nearly intolerable, these effects will not vary between red states and blue states. Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean it will not affect you – nor your grandchildren – nor theirs.

So here we are. In the worst recession since the 1930s, with an economy and infrastructure that desperately needs an influx of jobs, of which green jobs and a green economy is a perfect fit. Right as the UN Conference on climate change has begun; right as the moratorium on deepwater drilling has been lifted. At the brink of another year, another decade, where (some) Americans continue to hide their heads in the sands, or rather tar pits, and may just continue to do so for further decades, and generations to come. While China, and soon other countries, has quickly overtaken us in research and development, emerging as the pioneers in green technology and the green market, leaving us literally in the dust.

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