Climate change: The ‘distant future’ is here

Filed under OPINION

00_LeeDanielsOne of the classic commercials of the 1970s, when technological advances in food processing made it possible to enhance the flavor of margarine, posed an actress as Mother Nature about to ecstatically praise the taste of what she thought was her creation: “My delicious butter.”

But then she’s informed by the voice-over that it’s actually margarine she’s tasting – “so delicious it fooled even you, Mother Nature.” Mother Nature rises from her seat with a look of fury, spreads her arms amid a peal of thunder and a flash of lightning and angrily declares, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Nowadays, every new scientific study about the effects of global warming is telling us it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature, either.

Seawater flooding the world’s low-lying coastal regions and cities. More frequent torrential rainstorms overwhelming the drainage systems of some urban areas and washing away nutrient-rich topsoil in some farm regions, while intense longer-lasting heat waves extend the desert or bake the profitability out of farming in other regions. The displacement of huge numbers of people fleeing severe climatic changes – leading to wrenching economic and political crises in some countries and a greater worldwide instability.

No longer fiction
Two recent reports by large groups of scientists – one discussing the global effects of climate change released last fall by the United Nations; the second, focusing on the United States – have made it clear that all this and more are no longer fictional doomsday scenarios of humankind’s distant future. “Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

That declaration, from the National Climate Assessment study, which comprehensively examined the situation in the U.S., is part of the backdrop for the new initiative on climate change the Obama administration announced last week to reduce the nation’s output of carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to global warming.

The new draft rule unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled would reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s 600-plus power plants by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels – the equivalent, agency officials said, of taking two-thirds of all cars and trucks in America off the roads.

That accomplishment would reduce energy coming from coal – a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that produce global warming – to 30 percent from the present 40 percent. The federal agency said the effort would cost the economy from $7- to $9-billion a year but lead to benefits over the long term of $55 to 93 billion and lead to lower electricity bills for businesses and individual consumers when the plan is fully implemented in 2030.

EPA officials acknowledge the new rules by themselves won’t end the threat of the long-term catastrophic effects of climate change. In fact, only concerted global action can do that.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist in New York. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

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