Monday, September 18, 2006

Remedial vs Advanced Classes in Climate Change

A study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is urging Britain to ramp up action on global warming, saying they have just four years to establish a road map that will ensure a low-carbon economy and a needed 70% reduction in co2 over the next thirty years.

Down the hall in the remedial class, renowned US climate expert and NASA scientist James Hansen is telling the President that the US has a narrow ten year window to do something.

The marked difference of time frames is obviously not a testament to faulty science. Rather, it shows the disparity of social, political and intellectual maturity between the two cultures - something we need to rapidly come to terms with here in the western hemisphere.

In the developed countries of the New World - the US, Canada and Australia - part of our resistance to climate change comes the culture of excess we enjoy, and the seemingly inexhaustible plenty of our natural resources. For Europeans, Japanese, and the even the rapidly developing Chinese economy, the idea that human beings can impact their natural surroundings is made obvious through their enormous population densities and the relative scarcity of natural resources. The point is brought further home by thousands of years of Old World history that is largely defined by conflict and wars over those same limited resources. In North America, few of us see our direct impact on the environment, and other than our swift decimation of the native populations, we have never faced direct competition for our natural capital.

But beyond our low population density and wealth of resources there is a more insidious problem, namely our puritanical inability to accept rigorously tested and overwhelming scientific evidence that demonstrates our environmental impact. In European terms, our hysterical opposition to scientific facts on climate change is eerily similar to 1633 Florence, where the Catholic Church imprisoned Galileo for demonstrating that the universe revolved not around the Earth, as religious scholars maintained, but the Sun. In much the same way, Bush and the bishops of big oil actively seek to sentence those advancing scientific evidence for global warming to a social and professional exile - Hansen being one of many whose work was silenced or heavily edited by Bush officials.

Perhaps this isn't surprising. Since the time of Galileo, Europe has moved through centuries of scientific advancement, been home to two world wars, and witnessed the decline of their colonial empires. Both psychologically and economically, they have been required to face the reality of multiple cultures competing over shared resources, and have learned to work with others to protect resources for a shared prosperity. North Americans and Australians by comparison are still playing in the sandbox of the global social world, holding tight to what they believe to be 'theirs' and being unwilling to negotiate beyond that.

Granted, Europe has had nearly 400 years to mature since the days they locked up their scientists as heretics, but as the experts above have said, we have just 4 to 10 years to get this job done (depending on what level of maturity you are ready for). Now would be a good time to brush the dirt off our trousers and take a seat at the grown up table. Leaving our fantasies back in the sandbox and recognizing the scientific evidence for global warming is one place to start.

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