Amid the anti-science fervor on the American Right, Republican presidential contenders either shy from the worsening crisis of global warming or deny the problem exists. But the crisis of climate chaos is already spreading across the earth, warns Richard Lee Dechert.
By Richard Lee Dechert
On June 21, I had six hours of surgery for renal cell cancer. At age 79, I’m devoting my remaining time and energy to the vital issue of climate chaos and dedicating this piece to Luc, my first grandchild, who was born on Aug. 31 as an innocent, unaware member of what researcher and writer Mark Hertsgaard calls “Generation Hot” — “the two billion young people worldwide who will spend the rest of their lives coping with mounting climate disruption.”
Since the First Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1730s and the Second Industrial Revolution began in the U.S. in the 1860s, global atmospheric CO2 has exponentially increased from a stable level of about 280 parts per million (ppm) to a record 394.97 ppm in May 2011.
Meanwhile, world population has exponentially increased from about 730 million to 7 billion in 2011 and is projected to top 9 billion by 2050. Population stabilization is an essential condition for climate stabilization. Yet for religious, cultural, political or other reasons, the massive increase in world population is often downplayed or ignored as a major component of human-induced (anthropogenic) global warming.
In his monumental 1988 testimony to the U.S. Senate, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist, “declared that man-made global warming had begun . . . [and] that human activities — notably, the burning of oil, coal and other carbon-based fuels . . . could trigger dangerous climate change.”
But, as Associated Press writer Charles J. Hanley recalled in a recent report on the politics of global warming, “when Hansen was called back to testify in 1989, the White House of President George H.W. Bush edited this government scientist’s remarks to water down his conclusions, and Hansen declined to appear.
“That was the year U.S. oil and coal interests formed the Global Climate Coalition to combat efforts to shift economies away from their products. Britain’s Royal Society and other researchers later determined that oil giant Exxon disbursed millions of dollars annually to think tanks and a handful of supposed experts to sow doubt about the facts. …
“In fact, a document emerged years later showing that the industry coalition’s own scientific team had quietly advised it that the basic science of global warming was indisputable.”
In December 2008, two decades after his landmark testimony, Hansen and nine other climate scientists suggested that global atmospheric CO2 must be lowered to a mean level of 350 ppm or less “if climate disasters are to be averted.” However, that limit was breached in 1987 and CO2 is increasing about 2 ppm a year and at that rate could rise to a climate chaos level of about 470 ppm by 2050.
President Barack Obama and representatives of over 100 governments attending the December 2009 Copenhagen U.N. Climate Change Conference “endorsed the 350-ppm target and its corollary of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 [degrees Celsius] above preindustrial level,” as Hertsgaard noted in his book, HOT: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth.
A rise of 2.0 degrees Celsius in the mean global atmospheric temperature was not endorsed, because such a change would inundate island nations like the Maldives and cause other climate chaos.
In the final hours of the deadlocked conference in 2009, the non-binding Copenhagen Accord was unofficially adopted by the U.S., China, Russia, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, the Maldives and 21 other nations that represent over 80 percent of the human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and the people most affected by them.
The accord calls for the U.S. and 185 other nations to reduce emissions by 2020, invest in clean energy technology and practices, and help people adapt to the effects of climate change, according to a summary by the U.S. Climate Action Network.
The accord also, for the first time, acknowledged that staying below a rise of 2 degrees Celsius may not be sufficient. The agreement included a review in 2015 of the need to potentially aim for staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 ppm.
However, a weakness of the accord is that it allowed nations to set their own, ineffectual emission reduction targets for 2020. The December 2010 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, officially adopted similar non-binding provisions.
As reported by Hertsgaard and other researchers, CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions have raised the mean global temperature by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1900, and 0.6 more has been locked in by climate system inertia.
With the temperature continuing to rise about 0.2 degrees a decade since 1990 — and with the U.S. and other Copenhagen Accord nations not doing enough to reverse the rise or adapt to it — the 1.5 and 2.0 limits will likely be exceeded well before 2050, and the chaotic impacts of human-induced global warming will become the paramount issue of the 21st century.
Yvo de Boer, outgoing head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said, “It is clear that while the pledges on the table are an important step toward the objective of limiting growth of emissions, they will not in themselves suffice to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.”
Additional studies have confirmed this dangerous pattern. In a report entitled, “Long-term trend in global CO2 emissions” by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, it was reported that global emission of CO2 has increased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2010 and reached an all-time high of 33 billion tons by 2010 — despite increased energy efficiency, nuclear energy and a growing renewable energy industry.
See No Problem
Rampant conflict within and between nations is one of the chaotic impacts of human-induced global warming and is sure to grow much worse as climate change accelerates. Yet, the issue has grown increasingly politicized in the United States, with many key figures in the Republican Party siding with the global-warming deniers.
“As recently as the 2008 U.S. presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican candidates professed belief in the threat of global warming, and each advanced policies designed to curb U.S. carbon emissions,” Bryan Walsh wrote for Time magazine. “Not anymore. With the exception of Jon Huntsman — who barely registers in polls — you can’t find a Republican presidential candidate who unequivocally believes in climate science, let alone one who wants to do anything about it. …
“That’s deeply troubling. It’s one thing when people disagree on the effectiveness of different approaches to fix a problem; it’s worse when they refuse even to believe that a problem exists — despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that says it does. One of America’s major political parties has, in effect, adopted denial as policy.”
Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate chief, has expressed dismay over the prominence of global-warming deniers in the Republican presidential field.
“I’m shocked that the political debate in the U.S. is so far away from the scientific facts,” Hedegaard said in a Danish newspaper interview. “When more than 90 percent of researchers in the field are saying that we have to take [climate change] seriously, it is incredibly irresponsible to ignore it.
“It’s hard for a European to understand how it has become so fashionable to be anti-science in the U.S. … And when you hear American presidential candidates denying climate change, it’s difficult to take.” she said, in a reference to GOP candidates including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
It also is true that many U.S. “peace and justice” organizations have not embraced a climate chaos agenda that could prevent or reduce social upheavals. [Below, the Appendix of 28 conflict reports shows why such an agenda must be a key part of every organization's actions.]
Measures must urgently be taken and sustained to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower the mean global atmospheric temperature to a viable level.
But with decades of human-induced global warming already locked into our planet’s climate system, U.S. “peace and justice” organizations should primarily focus on measures that will enable populations in our nation and other nations to adapt as best as they can to increasing climate chaos.
Key resources on adaptation include:
• Climate Change 101: Adaptation
• UNDP l Adaptation to Climate Change
• Adaptation l Climate Change – Health and Environmental Effects l U.S. EPA
Two key resources on dealing with climate change skeptics and deniers are:
• The Climate Science Rapid Response Team, which “provides high-quality information about global warming issues to media and government officials.”
•According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Skeptical Science is the leading website for debunking spurious claims regarding climate science. The site tackles everything from flawed research papers to conspiracy theories about scientists.”
Richard Lee Dechert has been a Twin Cities “peace and justice” activist, researcher and writer on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues for over 45 years. He became aware of the dangers of human-induced global warming when he read the Club of Rome’s largely ignored but sadly prophetic “The Limits to Growth” in 1972. He has served as a public-interest lobbyist on environmental issues in the Minnesota Legislature and has co-produced, moderated or presented over 30 Global Issues Forums as a Board Member and Vice-President of the Minnesota Chapter of Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Global Solutions.
• U.N. chief: Warming as dangerous as war
“Human-induced global warming poses as much danger to the world as war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said . . . as he urged the United States to take the lead in the fight against global warming.”
• UN Climate Talks and the Prevention of Violent Conflict
“We, the young people of today, will be the recipients of an irreparably damaged planet if the international community fails to deal with climate change.”—Alexandra Stark, a Quaker observer and the report author.
• Tomgram: Chip Ward, Occupy Earth
“At some point, we’ll discover that you can’t exist for long beyond the boundaries of the natural world, that (as with every other species) if you overload the carrying capacity of your habitat, you crash. Warming temperatures, chaotic weather patterns, extreme storms, monster wildfires, epic droughts, Biblical floods, an avalanche of species extinction… that collapse is upon us now. In the human realm, it translates into hunger and violence, mass migrations and civil strife, failed states and resource wars. . . .
“After Occupy Wall Street, isn’t it time for Occupy Earth?.”
• Pentagon to rank global warming as destabilising force
“The Pentagon will for the first time rank global warming as a destabilising force, adding fuel to conflict and putting US troops at risk around the world. . . . The quadrennial defence review, prepared by the Pentagon to update Congress on its security vision, will direct military planners to keep track of the latest climate science, and to factor global warming into their long term strategic planning.”
• National Security and the Threat of Climate Change
A compilation of 2007, 2008 and 2009 reports from U.S. military and intelligence perspectives.
• Global Warming Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
“The Cold War shaped world politics for half a century. But global warming may shape the patterns of global conflict for much longer than that — and help spark clashes that will be, in every sense of the word, hot wars.”
• Climate Change and Global Conflicts
“Responses to resource shortages extend beyond fighting over dwindling crumbs of bread and drops of water, but include economic change, trade, technological and social innovation, and peaceful resource distribution.”
• Climate Conflict: how global warming threatens security and what to do about it -Launch
“Climate change has been a key factor in the rise and fall of societies and states from prehistory to the recent fighting in the Sudanese state of Darfur. It drives instability, conflict and collapse, but also expansion and reorganisation. The ways cultures have met the climate challenge provide object lessons for how the modern world can handle the new security threats posed by unprecedented global warming.”
• Climate change ‘will spark global conflict’
“A stark report, written by two senior EU officials, Javier Solana, foreign policy chief and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Commissioner for External Relations, highlights seven threats unleashed by ‘intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources.’. . . One major concern is growing rivalry with Russia over a scramble to claim the geological resources opened by a thawing Arctic, developments with ‘potential consequences for international stability and European security interests.’”
• Climate change will increase threat of war, Chris Huhne to warn
As the Secretary for Energy and Climate Change in the cabinet of British Prime Minister David Cameron, “[he] believes the UK and other countries must act urgently to prepare for the threat. ‘We cannot be 100% sure that our enemies will attack our country, but we do not hesitate to prepare for the eventuality. . . . The same principle applies to climate change, which a report published by the Ministry of Defence . . . has identified as one of the four critical issues that will affect everyone on the planet over the next 30 years.’”
• Global Warming and the Stresses of War – A Post Bin Laden Perspective
“In December 2001, even in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters, 100 Nobel Laureates declared in a public statement: ‘The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world’s dispossessed.’”
• The Linked Challenges of Global Climate Change and Local Peace
“As climate change impacts interact with features of the social, economic and political landscape, countries with weak governance systems will become overwhelmed, and face a high risk of falling into political instability and violent conflict. The risk of instability both adds to the burdens faced by vulnerable communities, and makes it harder for them to adapt to climate change.” [Italics added.]
• Mental illness rise linked to climate
The report “A Climate of Suffering: The Real Cost of Living with Inaction on Climate Change”. . . suggests a possible link between Australia’s recent decade-long drought and climate change. It points to a breakdown of social cohesion caused by loss of work and associated stability, adding that the suicide rate in rural communities rose by 8 per cent.”
• Climate Chaos: Christian Parenti’s New Book Exposes How Global Warming Could Lead to Global Warfare
“In Afghanistan . . . I was reporting on the poppy economy, the heroin economy, and asked the farmers, ‘Why are you growing this illegal crop that the government and NATO come after you for growing?’ And one reason they would give was that it’s drought-resistant. . . . Afghanistan is suffering the worst drought in living memory, that coincides with the U.S. occupation there, and the Afghan government and the NATO forces attack poppy as part of their counterinsurgency strategy and nation-building strategy. The Taliban defend poppy. The farmers grow poppy because it uses one-fifth the amount of water that wheat uses.”
• Global Warming Increases Risk of Civil War in Africa
“Climate change could increase the likelihood of civil war in sub-Saharan Africa by over 50 percent within the next two decades, according to a study led by a team of researchers at Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, New York University and Harvard University. . . . The study provides the first quantitative evidence linking climate change and the risk of civil conflict. It concludes by urging accelerated support by African governments and foreign aid donors for new and/or expanded policies to assist with African adaptation to climate change.” [Italics added.]
• Glaciers go, leaving drought, conflict and tension in Andes
“In 1991, tropical Andean glaciers covered some 1,065 square miles, with 70 percent in Peru, 20 percent in Bolivia, and the rest in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Since then, glaciers have disappeared from Venezuela and are shrinking in the other countries. . . . With cities growing and agriculture expanding throughout South America, experts predict that climate change will exacerbate water scarcity, increasing conflicts between competing users.”
• Water Wars: Climate change may spark conflict
Dangerous tensions exist between Israel, Jordan and Palestine; Turkey and Syria; Angola and Namibia; Ethiopia and Egypt; Bangladesh and India; China and India.
• Rising sea levels ‘could spark conflict over energy and food reserves’
“Rising sea levels caused by climate change are threatening to destabilise island nations and spark conflict across the world over energy and food reserves, the Australian military has claimed. . . . Resource-hungry nations are already snapping up large tracts of agricultural land in poor Asian and African nations.”
• Global warming impact like “nuclear war”: report
“The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) security think-tank said global warming would hit crop yields and water availability everywhere, causing great human suffering and leading to regional strife. . . . Overall, it said 65 countries were likely to lose over 15 percent of their agricultural output by 2100 at a time when the world’s population was expected to head from six billion now to nine billion people.”
• Population and Security: How Demographic Change Can Lead to Violent Conflict
“While overall population growth and population density do not generally predict political risks, a number of distinct kinds of demographic changes—rapid growth in the labor force in slow-growing economies, a rapid increase in educated youth aspiring to elite positions when such positions are scarce, unequal population growth rates between different ethnic groups, urbanization that exceeds employment growth and migrations that change the local balance among major ethnic groups—do appear to increase the risks of violent internal political and ethnic conflicts. In addition, there is some evidence that countries with larger populations have greater risks of both armed conflict and state repression.”
• World needs refugee re-think for climate victims: U.N.
“The world must invent new ways to protect people driven from their homes by climate change without copying safeguards for those uprooted by wars or persecution, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said. . . . ‘We must now reconsider our approach’ to help people uprooted by global warming, he said in a speech, adding that he considered environmental degradation and climate change to be ‘the defining challenge of our times.’”
• Workable Peace: Current Conflicts – The Global Warming Debate
“There is more than one way to analyze the global warming debate. It can be viewed in terms of scientific evidence, comparing research of those who claim that climate change is a result of man-made greenhouse emissions, and the reports of scientists who claim that natural climate patterns characterize recent warmer weather.
“The conflict can also be viewed economically. When looking at global warming from an economic standpoint, one must consider the implications of doing nothing about the current warming trend, or risking shorter-term economic growth to create an energy efficient economy. One’s position in the global economy may strongly influence which scientific views they advocate.
“Global climate change can also be analyzed politically, on a national and international level. Because climate change is an international issue, actions taken by individual nations may have short-term economic costs to be borne locally, even if longer-term international benefits include slowing or reversing climate change. This trade-off has been particularly charged in the United States. . . .
“Finally, the global warming debate is a moral issue. If, indeed, humans are systematically destroying the planet, it will have enormous implications for future generations of human and animal life. A person’s moral opinion also has a lot to do with their scientific, economic, and political perspectives.”
• Snubbing Skeptics Threatens to Intensify Climate War, Study Says
“That insight by social scientists was illustrated by what the paper describes as the ‘climate whiplash’ of the last two years, when polling showed an eroding number of people who believe in global warming. Establishing a scientific consensus on warming represents the beginning, not the end, of building a ‘social consensus,’ the paper says. . . . ‘When presenting the climate change issue, it is critical that the frames and categories used do not threaten people’s values and therefore [create] dismissive resistance to the argument,’ the paper says, noting that ‘dormant’ climate connections to religion, technology and national security might work better.”
• US Military Goes to War with Climate Skeptics
“Federal legislation to combat climate change is quashed for the foreseeable future, scuttled by congressional climate cranks who allege the climate-science jury is still out. . . . Fortunately, though, a four-star trump card waits in the wings: the US national security apparatus. . . . For years, in fact, high-level national security officials both inside the Pentagon and in think-tank land have been acknowledging climate change is for real and that we need to take action to preserve and enhance US national security interests.”
• Disarmament for Development Program . . . Climate Change and Conflict
“The International Peace Bureau congratulates the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore on the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. . . . Worldwide climate change is not only a peace question because of the risk of new conflicts that may follow, as stated by the Nobel Committee, but also on account of the enormous negative impact the military itself has on the environment—through pollution, use of scarce resources, and diversion of colossal sums of money away from sustainable development.”
• Climate Change and Conflict
“A key challenge today is to better understand the relationship between climate change, environmental degradation and conflict and to effectively manage associated risks through appropriate conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms.”
• Climate Change Adaptation, Social Entrepreneurship and Peacebuilding
“Our research explores the security implications of climate change as well as the potential for social entrepreneurship to support peacebuilding and adaptation activities.” [Italics added.]
• Climate Security Now! – Warming Means War
“Climate Security will develop joint actions between the climate change and peace movements in order to confront climate change effectively and equitably thereby reducing the risk of climate-related conflict. Climate Security was developed by Friends of the Earth and Voters for Peace.”
• Climate Change: Crisis and Challenge – How our movements can achieve both global justice and ecological balance
“There is no better example of the interconnection of the root causes of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination than climate change. . . . What will the solutions to the climate crisis look like? They will be found in a model that is the opposite of the dominant economic model of incessant and unsustainable growth, oppression and injustice. . . .
“The movement against climate change in the United States plays a pivotal role in the global effort to avoid climate catastrophe. This is because the US is historically responsible for the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions; the US military is the largest single emitter of carbon on the planet; the US and the World Bank dominate the discussion of what to do about global warming; and the historic role of the US in climate negotiations has been to obstruct forward progress. . . .
“This will require broad alliances with diverse peoples and movements around the world, and it will require the fundamental transformation of society to one that is based on principles of justice and ecology.”