[az-leader] Fw: Oct issue on envrionment / McKibben & action needed on not "just another problem"

  • From: "Roland W James" <roland.james@xxxxxxx>
  • To: <"Undisclosed-Recipient:;"@freelists.org>
  • Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 12:26:49 -0800

----- Original Message ----- 
To:  comments@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ,   November 18, 2003 

The eloquence of Bill McKibben, whose Granta essay on global warming appears 
below, removes sadness and renews hope.  However,  I even find that many 
environmentalists consider global warming to be "just another problem," to use 
McKibben's words--and not the mother of all environmental problems.   E.g.,  
the Nov/Dec E Magazine cover article on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  says he "fights 
passionately for the environment,"  while he doesn't mention global warming in 
speeches (at least not in the 2 I've heard in the last couple of years) and as 
he opposes wind turbines off Cape Cod, or the "Dethroning King Coal" profile in 
Nov/Dec Sierra Magazine, which obscurely mentions global warming.

In the Ca newspaper articles ("Beetle infestation sets stage for more 
wildfires," Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 11/7/03, p. B6), why wasn't there a 
mention of global warming/ global climate change (GCC), the ecological crisis 
at the base of bark beetle infestation, and the crisis that  will swamp all 
other environmental concerns.  Why no willingness to make connections:
CO2AL and Oil -->>GCC-->>drought in the west-->>unhealthy forests-->>fire ?

There is sufficient evidence available.  For example, a report from  the major 
British climate research facility says that GCC is happening faster than 
originally thought and if the world doesn't cut back significantly on CO2  
emissions soon that most of the world's forests will disappear by 2040.   Or 
the 2002 EPA report that Bush squelched said that  GCC would lead to the 
"permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows."    Or the report in the 
Oct 16 Press Democrat saying that the snow line in the Sierra will rise 
hundreds of feet as a result of GCC.  

In much of the world, including the U.S.,  greenhouse gases are growing 
The U.S. administration and Congress fail to act,  influenced more by about ten 
scientific naysaysers who have received funding from the coal and oil 
industries, than by ~2000 scientists from ~100 countries on the UN Panel on 
GCC.  The other western industrial democracies have acted, as there is no 
scientific debate in those countries.    

GCC is a global problem requiring a global solution, which is impossible 
without U.S. participation.   California  and other states need to leverage 
Washington to join the global effort needed against GCC.  Leverage at the state 
level could be sliding scale sales and annual vehicle license taxes for new 
non-commercial vehicles based on fuel efficiency or alt fuel use. (* below) 
Where is the sense of urgency needed on this crunchtime crisis?

Roland James   Santa Rosa,  Ca      707.539.0547
Granta: This Overheating World,  Fall 2003  (esp.  Bill McKibben)
The world we were born into has gone. We shall never completely recapture its 
climate, its seasons, the way its plants grew and its animals lived. This is 
not a wild-eyed prediction, a man on the street with a placard ('THE END IS 
NIGH'). Respectable science knows it and says it. Nine of the world's ten 
warmest years since records were kept have occurred in the past fourteen years. 
Some calculations suggest that the average English garden moves south, 
climatically, by a distance of sixty-six feet every day.
Who is responsible? We are-our habits. Can we prevent it? Too late. Can we 
moderate it, slow it, eventually reverse it? Yes-if we try.  (below McKibben 
see an idea to leverage Washington)

This outdoor issue of Granta reports from our present and future world.

Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature (Bloomsbury/Anchor) and, most 
recently, Enough: Genetic Engineering and the End of Human Nature 
(Bloomsbury/Times). He is scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

'Worried? Us?'   by  Bill McKibben

For fifteen years now, some small percentage of the world's scientists and 
diplomats and activists has inhabited one of those strange dreams where the 
dreamer desperately needs to warn someone about something bad and imminent; but 
somehow, no matter how hard he shouts, the other person in the dream-standing 
smiling, perhaps, with his back to an oncoming train-can't hear him. This 
group, this small percentage, knows that the world is about to change more 
profoundly than at any time in the history of human civilization. And yet, so 
far, all they have achieved is to add another line to the long list of human 
problems-people think about 'global warming' in the way they think about 
'violence on television' or 'growing trade deficits', as a marginal concern to 
them, if a concern at all. Enlightened governments make smallish noises and 
negotiate smallish treaties; enlightened people look down on America for its 
blind piggishness. Hardly anyone, however, has fear in their guts. 

Why? Because, I think, we are fatally confused about time and space. Though we 
know that our culture has placed our own lives on a demonic fast-forward, we 
imagine that the earth must work on some other timescale. The long slow 
accretion of epochs-the Jurassic, the Cretaceous, the Pleistocene-lulls us into 
imagining that the physical world offers us an essentially stable background 
against which we can run our race. Humbly, we believe that the world is big and 
that we are small. This humility is attractive, but also historic and no longer 
useful. In the world as we have made it, the opposite is true. Each of us is 
big enough, for example, to produce our own cloud of carbon dioxide. As a 
result, we-our cars and our industry-have managed to raise the atmospheric 
level of carbon dioxide, which had been stable at 275 parts per million 
throughout human civilization, to about 380 parts per million, a figure that is 
climbing by one and a half parts per million each year. This increase began 
with the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century, and it has been 
accelerating ever since. The consequence, if we take a median from several 
respectable scientific projections, is that the world's temperature will rise 
by five degrees Fahrenheit (roughly two and a half degrees Celsius) over the 
next hundred years, to make it hotter than it has been for 400 million years. 
At some level, these are the only facts worth knowing about our earth.

Fifteen years ago, it was a hypothesis. Those of us who were convinced that the 
earth was warming fast were a small minority. Science was sceptical, but set to 
work with rigour. Between 1988 and 1995, scientists drilled deep into glaciers, 
took core samples from lake bottoms, counted tree rings, and, most importantly, 
refined elaborate computer models of the atmosphere. By 1995, the almost 
impossibly contentious world of science had seen enough. The world's most 
distinguished atmospheric chemists, physicists and climatologists, who had 
organized themselves into a large collective called the Intergovernmental Panel 
on Climate Change, made their pronouncement: 'The balance of evidence suggests 
that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.' In the eight 
years since, science has continued to further confirm and deepen these fears, 
while the planet itself has decided, as it were, to peer-review their work with 
a succession of ominously hot years (1998 was the hottest ever, with 2002 
trailing by only a few hundredths of a degree). So far humanity has raised the 
planet's temperature by about one degree Fahrenheit, with most of that increase 
happening after 1970-from about fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, where it had 
been stuck since the first cities rose and the first crops grew, to about sixty 
degrees. Five more degrees in the offing, as I have said, but already we 
understand, with an almost desperate clarity, how finely balanced our world has 
been. One degree turns out to be a lot. In the cryosphere-the frozen portions 
of the planet's surface-glaciers are everywhere in rapid retreat (spitting out 
Bronze Age hunter-gatherers). The snows of Kilimanjaro are set to become the 
rocks of Kilimanjaro by 2015. Montana's Glacier National Park is predicted to 
lose its last glaciers by 2030. We know how thick Arctic ice is-we know it 
because Cold War nuclear-powered submarines needed the information for their 
voyages under the ice cap. When the data was declassified in the waning days of 
the Clinton administration, it emerged that Arctic ice was forty per cent 
thinner than it had been forty years before. Permafrost is melting. Get it? 

'Global warming' can be a misleading phrase-the temperature is only the signal 
that extra solar radiation is being trapped at the earth's surface. That extra 
energy drives many things: wind-speeds increase, a reflection of the increasing 
heat-driven gradients between low and high pressure; sea level starts to rise, 
less because of melting ice caps than because warm air holds more water vapour 
than cold; hence evaporation increases and with it drought, and then, when the 
overloaded clouds finally part, deluge and flood. Some of these effects are 
linear. A recent study has shown that rice fertility drops by ten per cent for 
each degree Celsius that the temperature rises above thirty degrees Celsius 
during the rice plant's flowering. At forty degrees Celsius, rice fertility 
drops to zero. But science has come to understand that some effects may not 
follow such a clear progression. To paraphrase Orwell, we may all be hot, but 
some will be hotter than others. If the Gulf Stream fails because of Arctic 
melting, some may, during some seasons, even be colder. 

The success of the scientific method underlines the failure of the political 
method. It is clear what must happen-the rapid conversion of our energy system 
from fossil to renewable fuels. And it is clear that it could happen-much of 
the necessary technology is no longer quixotic, no longer the province of 
backyard tinkerers. And it is also clear that it isn't happening. Some parts of 
Europe have made material progress-Denmark has built great banks of windmills. 
Some parts of Europe have made promises-the United Kingdom thinks it can cut 
its carbon emissions by sixty per cent by 2050. But China and India are still 
building power plants and motorways, and the United States has made it utterly 
clear that nothing will change soon. When Bill Clinton was President he sat by 
while American civilians traded up from cars to troop-transport vehicles; 
George Bush has not only rejected the Kyoto treaty, he has ordered the 
Environmental Protection Agency to replace 'global warming' with the less 
ominous 'climate change', and issued a national energy policy that foresees 
ever more drilling, refining and burning. Under it, American carbon emissions 
will grow another forty per cent in the next generation. 

As satisfying as it is to blame politicians, however, it will not do. 
Politicians will follow the path of least resistance. So far there has not been 
a movement loud or sustained enough to command political attention. Electorates 
demand economic prosperity-more of it-above all things. Gandhianism, the 
political philosophy that restricts material need, is now only a memory even in 
the country of its birth. And our awareness that the world will change in every 
aspect, should we be so aware, is muted by the future tense, even though that 
future isn't far away, so near in fact that preventing global warming is a lost 
cause-all we can do now is to try to keep it from getting utterly out of 

This is a failure of imagination, and in this way a literary failure. Global 
warming has still to produce an Orwell or a Huxley, a Verne or a Wells, a 
Nineteen Eighty-Four or a War of the Worlds, or in film any equivalent of On 
The Beach or Doctor Strangelove. It may never do so. It may be that 
because-fingers crossed-we have escaped our most recent fear, nuclear 
annihilation via the Cold War, we resist being scared all over again. Fear has 
its uses, but fear on this scale seems to be disabling, paralysing. Anger has 
its uses too, but the rage of anti-globalization demonstrators has yet to do 
more than alienate majorities. Shame sends a few Americans shopping for small 
cars, but on the whole America, now the exemplar to the world, is very nearly 

My own dominant feeling has always been sadness. In 1989, I published The End 
of Nature, the first book for a lay audience about global warming. Half of it 
was devoted to explaining the science, the other half to my unease. It seemed, 
and still seems, to me that humanity has intruded into and altered every part 
of the earth (or very nearly) with our habits and economies. Thoreau once said 
that he could walk half an hour from his home in Concord, Massachusetts, and 
come to a place where no man stood from one year to the next, and 'there 
consequently politics are not, for politics are but the cigar smoke of a man.' 
Now that cigar smoke blows everywhere. 

Paradoxically, the world also seems more lonely. Everything else exists at our 
sufferance. Biologists guess that the result of a rapid warming will be the 
greatest wave of extinction since the last asteroid crashed into the earth. Now 
we are the asteroid. The notion that we live in a God-haunted world is harder 
to conjure up. God rebuked Job: 'Were you there when I wrapped the ocean in 
clouds.and set its boundaries, saying, "Here you may come but no farther. Here 
shall your proud waves break.Who gathers up the stormclouds, slits them and 
pours them out?"' Job, and everyone else until our time, had the sweet 
privilege of shutting up in the face of that boast-it was clearly God or 
gravity or some force other than us. But as of about 1990 we can answer back, 
because we set the sea level now, and we run the storm systems. The excretion 
of our economy has become the most important influence on the planet we were 
born into. We're what counts. 

Our ultimate sadness lies in the fact that we know that this is not a 
pre-ordained destiny; it isn't fate. New ways of behaving, of getting and 
spending, can still change the future: there is, as the religious evangelist 
would say, still time, though not much of it, and a miraculous conversion is 
called for-Americans in the year 2000 produced fifteen per cent more carbon 
doxide than they had ten years before. 

The contrast between two speeds is the key fact of our age: between the pace at 
which the physical world is changing and the pace at which human society is 
reacting to this change. In history, if it exists, we shall be praised or 


*The idea (in addition to opposing new coal plants, such as 2 in Az):    

  Sliding scale state sales tax and annual vehicle license tax
for new non-commercial vehicles based on fuel efficiency and/or alternative
fuel use;  revenue neutral as compared to the revenue that would be
collected under the old system, taking into account declining gas tax
revenue;  vehicles sold prior to the effective date would be under the old
system (whatever that turns out to be);  tax percentages and levels could be
reconfigured on a regular basis based on changing buying habits and/or
improved technologies.   The sliding scales should be sales tax of 2% for
most efficient or alt fuel  to 14% for least efficient, and VLT of $20/year
for most efficent or alt fuel   to $1000/year for least efficient.

[This would not apply to "old" vehicles sold prior to the effective date of the 
above legislation or inititative.   This also addresses the coming peak in 
global oil production.]

Nuts and Bolts
1.  Arnold didn't completely repeal the VLF, but "signs order repealing the 
tripling of the car tax"
back up to the 2% of value, that had been in effect for over 5 decades prior to 
it being lowered by 2/3rds in '98 when the state was flush with money.   This 
sliding scale proposal does not have anything to do with the VLF on 
non-commercial vehicles sold prior to its effective date, but only applies to 
vehicles sold new after the effective date.   People would be on notice that 
there VLF would be a certain amount for the life of the vehicle, rather than 
starting at a certain level and changing as the value of  the vehicle  changes. 
I know that anything to do with VLF will be difficult in these circumstances if 
people aren't willing to listen beyond the acronym.  

2.  I have sent letters and materials to local Sonoma Co.-area legislators.   I 
have talked in person with Jim Leddy of Sen. Wes Chesbro's office about having 
the leg council draft this idea into bill form.   
He was friendly but cautious.    I thought I might have a better chance with 
Wiggins, since she is term-limited, and I will be calling Mary Ruthsdotter in 
Wiggins office tomorrow (she has been out for a week) for an appointment.    

3.  I am not a lawyer and don't have a working  familiarity  with California 
statutes  to be able to draft this.     I was able to get Az Leg Council to  
draft into legislative bill form in Arizona,  despite hostility even from the 
environmental community, including the LCV and Sierra Club endorsed Gov. 
Napolitano, whose energy director says there is no such thing as global climate 
change and that we should use more coal because it is domestically plentiful.   
 That hostility led me to not consider an initiative in Az and partly led to 
moving away from Az.    
"So far there has not been a movement loud or sustained enough to command 
political attention."   McKibben 
I don't expect the Ca legislature to pass this, which would mean planning and 
doing an initiative--a movement loud and sustained to command political 
attention--perhaps with the help of other states, too,  and reaching to 

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  • » [az-leader] Fw: Oct issue on envrionment / McKibben & action needed on not "just another problem"