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Oilmen Retreat

Human activity has been the main driver of global warming. But the consequences of rising temperatures could be blunted by quick action.

By PAM BERNS
Chicago Life has been writing about the environment, sustainability and global warming for decades. In 1990, we interviewed John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America. He discussed global warming in the context that three times as many fossils fuels are needed to produce a meat-centered diet compared to a meat-free diet. He also discussed how the United States has cleared forests to make way to produce cropland for grazing. He said, at that time, 55 square feet of tropical rainforest were lost in producing a quarter-pound of rainforest beef.

These statistics are food for thought, as are other claims by the Worldwatch Institute, which says that 15-20 percent of methane emissions come from livestock. Sixty percent of global methane emissions are related to human endeavors, such as raising livestock, fuel production and waste management. Natural sources of methane include wildfires and melting permafrost peat bogs.

As we now know, the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded a three-year study that found that it was very likely that human activity has been the main driver of global warming and that the harmful consequences of rising temperatures could be blunted by quick action.

The U.N. report is hailed to be the most comprehensive review of climate change science to date. It says that there is a 90 percent chance that human activity is warming our planet and that, depending on emissions, temperatures will increase 1.5 to 5.8 degrees Celsius this century. Production of fuels, emissions from vehicles with poor gas mileage and dirty coal-burning are huge contributors to global warming. Deforestation and traffic gridlock contribute, as well.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has compared big oil's "disinformation" on fuel's impact on global warming as akin to the tobacco industry's denial of the health repercussions of their products.

The American Enterprise Institute, funded to the tune of $1.6 million by Exxon Mobil and 20-some persons who have been consultants to the Bush administration, have been doing their best to discredit the global warming report. Another Exxon-funded organization in Canada has started a review to contradict the findings of the IPCC report that links global warming to burning fossil fuels.

According to The Guardian, Ben Stewart of Greenpeace has attacked the AEI. "The  AEI is more than just a thinktank, said Stewart. "It functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."

The IPCC reports that sea levels will rise between one or two feet over the next century. Some scientists, however, predict greater acceleration in rising ocean water levels due to the impact of the water vapor into the air, thus trapping the sun's heat. They also point to the effect of a haze of pollutants, which can even cause further warming.

In 2000, Chicago Life interviewed Al Gore. Since then, the Bush administration has tried to quell efforts to address global warming, minimizing it by calling it "climate change." From suppressing Environmental Protection Agency reports by leaving out a temperature record covering the last thousand years to adding words such as "potentially" where there was no question of facts, the administration did what any good oil man would do--squelch the evidence.

According to The Observer, Kert Davies, also of Greenpeace, linked the editing of scientific reports to lobby groups: "It shows that there is an effort to undermine good science. It all just smells like the oil industry. They are doing everything to allow the U.S. to remain the world's biggest polluter."

One of the first things Bush did when elected was to withdraw the this nation from the Kyoto treaty, which nearly the whole world had signed to address global warming. .

.....Even though this administration is taking credit for funding part of the IPCC study, Bush is not supporting mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. We have lost six years doing close to nothing to address this issue. In fact, the White House has undermined our own scientists' research into global warming for years. Bush administration appointees have undermined EPA reports over and over.

Another recent report issued by ActionAid, "Unjust Waters," documented the flooding in poor communities in six African cities. Yasmin McDonnell, emergencies policy adviser at ActionAid, says, "Poor people in many parts of the world are experiencing the effects of climate change now and their stories of floods, droughts and unpredictable weather show the real meaning of the global changes that scientists are observing and their predictions are bleak."

Other bleak repercussions of global warming include dwindling stocks of cold water fish and increased zones of favorable conditions for infectious diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus.

The New York Times reported that carbon dioxide and methane gases have recently doubled, global sea level has risen, sea ice has shrunk and intensity of hurricanes and precipitation have increased, while droughts in lower latitudes have become more intense. Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," illustrates the situation with clarity. This nation has five percent of the population of the world, but we contribute a quarter of the world's emissions. We cannot expect other countries to set standards unless we set the bar higher. We have a moral responsibility to cut greenhouse gas emissions and establish new standards for other pollutants. This is not the time to be seeking short- term profits when so much is at stake.       

Dick Cheney has his summer home in St. Michaels on the eastern shore of Maryland. The president's father, George H. W. Bush, has an oceanfront family retreat at Walker's Point, near Kennebunkport, Maine. As glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic ice cap melt, rising ocean levels will cause ocean frontage to disappear. Oilmen with family compounds on the Atlantic Coast may want to sell their homes before their real estate tanks.--Pam Berns

Published: April 01, 2007
Issue: Spring 2007