I found a short news item in The Globe and Mail last month. It was buried at the bottom of page 16, sandwiched between two much larger advertisements. The headline? "Global warming huge threat, study says."
According to the story, a quarter of all life on earth could be extinct by 2050 because of global warming.
A quarter of all life, a million species of plants and animals wiped out for good. This would be the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.
Reading the paper front to back, I'd already heard the latest developments in the obviously more newsworthy Conrad Black saga. However, this story got fewer column inches than the daily picture of millionaire Belinda Stronach.
Human induced climate change will be the biggest issue of our lifetime, yet it is consistently framed in the mainstream media as if it is still uncertain whether it even exists. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body established by the United Nations, stated the unusual climate changes seen in the late 20th century are inconsistent with natural factors (including solar and volcanic).
In 2001, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 365 parts per million per volume. Pre-industrial levels are estimated closer to 280 ppmv. This has raised the average temperature of the planet by about .6 degrees, but effects from these emissions have a built-in time lag. The current increase can be attributed to emissions of the mid-20th century. So, even if we were to cut all emissions right now, damage has already been done--and warming will continue.
By now, most people should know global warming doesn't mean it will get warmer everywhere. Weather systems are incredibly complex, that's why we can't predict them with any long-term accuracy. The warming trend has, and will continue to, affect ecological systems in unexpected ways--melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, droughts and floods, extreme weather events.
Another recent study indicates the influx of freshly melted ice could threaten the saltiness of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the heaviness of salty water which drives the gulf stream, the massive conveyor belt responsible for bringing warm equatorial air to much of Europe. If the gulf stream slows or stops, Europe will experience much colder weather. Crop output would decline, and it's doubtful it would be able to support the current population.
You don't have to be a climate specialist to see changes are occurring.
People hear the term "global warming" and relegate it to the back of their minds as just another pesky environmentalist issue. Just one more chicken-little claim from the fringe left. The media bombard us with two sides of a story until it becomes impossible to know who to believe. Apparently, it only takes one skeptical 'scientist' to make it seem like real debate.
All scientists agree the greenhouse effect is real. It's thanks to greenhouse gases that Earth traps any heat at all. The majority of reputable climatologists agree human activity is altering our climate.
Admittedly, the science involved is incredibly complex, allowing conclusions to be drawn to suit political and economic goals at the expense of a truly informed public. It must be asked who stands to gain from propagating lies about climate change?
The scientific community calling for emission reductions, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the IPCC, will gain nothing. On the other hand, oil companies, car manufacturers and big business in general have plenty to gain in maintaining the status quo. There is still a lot of money buried in oil reserves, so it isn't fiscally prudent to develop alternative energy just yet.
The mainstream media is perhaps the guiltiest of all. Until climate change is framed as the most important issue of our lifetime, people will continue to deny their own culpability--it is always easier to look the other way.
Our first world lifestyle, with the personal mobility we feel is our inherent right, is responsible for damaging emissions.
Opponents of the Kyoto Accord like to point out developing countries are responsible for the largest amounts of emissions, yet they aren't expected to cut them like we are. They claim this is unfair economic advantage. But the real unfair economic advantage has been the last 200 years. Western prosperity was built on the burning of coal, petroleum and natural gas.
We can't blame developing nations for seeking the same prosperity. What we can do is set an example.
Every single one of us is responsible for these emissions. Every car ride, every light left on, every imported automobile, television or sweatshop garment. The computer I'm writing this on is powered by burning fossil fuels.
We can't live in denial any longer. We can consume less.