Guest Editorial: Senate Fiddles as Earth Burns

(Activist Jeff Cobb, of Climate Change Advocates of Cincinnati, outlines why the climate change treaty meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, is important and how U.S. politicians are lagging in the effort.)

The parallels between Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the callous neglect by politicians like the U.S. Senate while the Earth burns due to global warming is sadly apt.

One could easily write an entire column containing only the names of the scientific reports that prove that climate change is happening, is caused by human activity and why action needs to be taken to reverse it. Scientific, political, religious, national security and economic thinkers who have looked at climate change understand our dire straits and beg for changes.—-

Europe faced a similar dark time prior to World War II as politicians practiced denial rather than address Hitler's relentless drive to war. Hitler seized Poland and readied to take more of Europe under his dark dominion, and billboards in England demanded: "What Price Churchill?" Churchill was finally made prime minister, and leapt to action, a leader in the fight to defeat the Nazi war machine. Climate change needs its own Churchill, and doesn’t yet have one. Neither hate-filled dictators nor climate change negotiate, a reality lost on politicians.

The word “unequivocal” was used by the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (the United States is a member and all member governments approved every word) to describe the body of scientific evidence proving that climate change is occurring, is man-made, and action needs to be taken to reverse it. Because of their consensus process, this report only contains new data up to 2005, so climate science already was unequivocal by that time.

As anyone can see on the best climate blog out there, by Dr. Joe Romm — one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment” — there is scientific evidence for climate change aplenty, and he quotes and provides links to seven of the best of them here.

As further evidence for the scientific consensus, as well as frustration on the part of American scientists on Senate inaction, we have the letter signed by the most prestigious science organization in the U.S., along with 17 other American science organizations.

And if you need further proof, please see this nearly exhaustive list of science, industry, and religion quotes.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon describes climate change as "by far the most urgent and serious existential threat for all humanity and planet Earth" and "the one true existential threat to our planet."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is politically center-right in her nation and was recently reelected, said in her address to Congress: "In the Arctic icebergs are melting, in Africa people are becoming refugees due to environmental damage, and global sea levels are rising ... For we all know, we have no time to lose. We need an agreement at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December."

The president of the Maldives, an island nation likely to be underwater by the end of the century due to climate change, has become the first country to become carbon neutral. For that act, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was named one of Time's “Heroes of the Environment 2009.”

The European Union has committed to emissions reductions of 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and is on the verge of increasing that to 30 percent.

By comparison, the United States — the greatest historical emitter of greenhouse gases — has made no concrete commitment at all.

Spiritual leaders from the world’s major religions address climate change in similar terms. The Vatican describes the “inescapable responsibility of one and all to care for the environment," the chief rabbi of Israel believes “care for the environment is a fundamental religious imperative," and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, supports reducing carbon dioxide to the scientific consensus of 350 parts per million, and counsels “urgent...corrective action.”

The Arab-Israeli conflict centers largely around water. Imagine more such conflicts breaking out, as climate change disrupts normal weather patterns. Mass migration to flee drought conditions in some areas, and floods in others, is poised to create more turmoil. For this reason, climate change is a growing concern for national security specialists. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a West Point graduate and former National Security adviser, and Gen. Wesley Clark, a West Point valedictorian and ex-presidential candidate, have appeared on Repower America's TV commercial calling climate change a national security issue.

CNA, a think tank born in World War II that conducts military operations analysis, convened a board in 2006 comprised of former generals of all the military services, and has made climate change a major focus. CNA’s conclusion sees “climate change acting as a ‘threat multiplier’ for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and identifies key challenges that must be planned for now if they are to be met effectively in the future.”

Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, made a study of the economics of climate change for the British government. He describes climate change as “the greatest market failure ever,” and proposes action with “fierce urgency." He has also framed the issue succinctly by pointing out that the U.S. generates 23 tons per capita of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases (CO2e), and the entire planet needs to get to 2 tons per capita by 2050. (Ohioans generate 24 tons CO2e per capita, due to our reliance on coal to generate electricity.)

According to Stern, if we don't act on climate change “damage could rise to [a reduction of] 20 percent of GDP or more."

And yet still U.S. politicians dither and choose more words, not deeds; inaction over action; insanity over what the science says we "have" to do to prevent catastrophic climate change and the possible end of humanity. Even some U.S. politicians like President Bill Clinton, who want climate change action, still put politics before science, next year's election ahead of our survival: "We shouldn't ask them [Congressional Democrats] to commit [political] suicide [by acting on climate change]," Clinton said.

The world has entered another period like the beginning of World War II, with a dark, deadly situation no one wanted to admit to or deal with. As Hitler made his move and began taking over nation after nation, politicians practiced appeasement, and tried and failed with words rather than action, to halt the advance of his war machine. The politicians had lived in denial far too long to stem the tide of the now-raging Nazi storm. Some knew then that the world needed a leader, not a politician, just as we do now (as admirably pointed out by Greenpeace International).

We, who in our darkest hour stare our mortality starkly in the face, need a leader. We don't need the kind of politicians who have declared their failure to agree to a climate change treaty this month in Copenhagen, before the date has even arrived. What confidence they exhibit in themselves, what compassion for future generations. We haven't seen their like since 1939, when Chamberlain declared success after selling out Poland to Hitler.

The time for action has long since passed. The time to shift the world to a war footing, and throw all global resources into a full-court press at the challenge of climate change as if our lives depended on it (because they do, especially if you are poor) is yesterday, not December 2010 at the next U.N. climate change meeting. In the absence of a climate change “Pearl Harbor,” we need leaders more than ever to galvanize public opinion, harness the world's political, economic, material and spiritual resources, and tackle head-on the greatest challenge humanity has ever stared in the eye.

In the absence of our “Climate Change Churchill,” we must take up the mantle of “leader” ourselves. As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We must be the leaders of change we wish to see. Just as in Britain prior to World War II, we too can choose to send a message to our politicians, “What Price our Planet?”

Instead of billboards to send this message, we in Ohio can call, e-mail, fax, meet with our political leaders and ask them what it will take for action on climate change. Now.

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