What events or actions had the most positive or negative impact on the likelihood that the nation and the world will act in time to avoid catastrophic warming? Here are my picks:
#10. Over a barrel: Oil nearing $100. Technically not a global warming story — but who can doubt that part of the renewed interest in energy policy in general and alternatives/efficiency in particular is due to record oil prices? Certainly OPEC is a bit worried. And if, as many believe, this is evidence that we are nearing peak oil — then this story foreshadows even more dramatic changes in the future.
#9. Australian denier bites the dust — literally: Conservative Prime Minister John Howard of drought-riddled Australia lost perhaps the first national election in which global warming was a pivotal issue. The immediate impact was Australia signing the Kyoto protocol — further isolating this country. But a much bigger impact may be felt if U.S. progressives come to see that fighting global warming is not just the morally right thing to do — it is winning politics.
#8. The climate, it is a changin’: The painful reality of global warming is becoming obvious to more and more people in 2007, as the weather gets more and more extreme. Australians reversed their thinking in large part because of the brutal multi-year drought they are now in (see here and here and here). Then we have the brutal droughts in this country (see here), which are increasingly being linked to global warming. Same for the record-breaking wildfires. The Brits know climate change is behind their record flooding. Same for the Chinese.
#7. Delayers/Deniers Double Down. In spite of the painful obviousness of climate change, the incontrovertible science linking it to human activity, and the graver and graver warnings of potential catastrophe — many Deniers, like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), just continue putting out the same old disinformation in new packages or obsessing over meaningless NASA data revisions. A lot of people seem simply impervious to the facts and to science — and desperate to cling to any media stories or studies, however inaccurate, that seem to undermine the overwhelming body of evidence. And then we have the emergence of the Delayers, who say they believe in global warming but show that they really don’t get it by embracing only voluntary technological strategies, which can’t get us to 550 ppm, let alone the 450 or less we need to avert catastrophe. Remember, only 41 Senators representing a small fraction of the American people, can stop serious domestic action — if they so choose. Heck, they stopped a measly 15% renewable electricity requirement and a shift of money from unneeded oil subsidies to vital clean energy technologies — imagine what they’ll do with a serious climate bill. And 34 Senators can stop this country from ratifying any international treaty. The mindless — and self-destructive — implacability of conservatives could easily be the top story of the year and — spoiler alert — in some sense it is.
#6. Fewer fools on the Hill. While the deniers/delayers remain locked in the past, those who believe in action took control of both houses of Congress this year, a key reason we got tougher fuel economy standards passed and a real climate bill out of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. The only way we’ll get serious enough climate action domestically to give us the credibility needed to bring China and other countries along is if we have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Let’s hope 2008 Congressional elections continue the trend.
#5. A Convenient Truth: Outside of the Washington DC Beltway, most people, politicians, businesses, and even the media are open to the facts and the science. Inspired by Al Gore and climate scientists — who shared a well-deserved Nobel Prize — we’ve seen a sea-change in thinking and action on global warming. States have taken the lead in climate action, accelerating clean energy, and shunning new coal plants, while businesses have embraced carbon regulations and many have begun spending serious dollars on clean tech. Eventually, political leaders will have to catch up with everyone else.
#4. The China Syndrome: China’s rapacious construction of coal power plants continues unabated, driving global CO2 emissions to much faster growth than even the IPCC had projected in its worst-case scenario. And the Wall Street Journal just reported “In the last two years, China has built nearly 20 plants that convert coal into a gas that can be used to make such things as plastic and pharmaceuticals.” 2007 may be the year China passed this country in total carbon dioxide emissions. If China won’t agree to cap emissions in the not too distant future, say, 2020, then it can, by itself, make any global climate deal unworkable and kill any chance of stabilizing below 450 ppm (or 550, for that matter).
#3. Ice, Ice maybe not: Shocking Arctic ice loss this year, coupled with further evidence that the great ice sheets are losing mass a century earlier than the IPCC had predicted — and two major studies saying sea level rise by 2100 may exceed one meter. The most dramatic evidence of global warming is what happened to Arctic ice this summer, which itself has direct implications for drought in the Western U.S. (subs. req’d). Probably the most serious threat humanity faces is rapid sea level rise from the disintigration of the ice sheets (and loss of the inland glaciers that provide hundreds of millions with fresh water). If the planet becomes motivated to act in time, I think ice — or the lack of it — will be a major driving force. Certainly it has alarmed some of the top climate scientists in the world….
#2. Desperate Scientists: The world’s top climate scientists beg for action. First, we saw the IPCC’s bleak Fourth Assessment Report (summarized here), which warns that human emissions, left unchecked, could lead to rapid, multi-meter sea level rise; loss of most species; and widespread drought and desertification. Second, we heard IPCC head, Rajendra Pachauri, warn, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” Finally, more than 200 scientists signed a statement asserting that, to avoid catastrophic impacts, global greenhouse gas emissions “must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose.” (And this isn’t even counting the repeated dire warnings of our nation’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, such as here and here and here, for instance.) Any sane person would be listening to our climate scientists — and an increasing number are, but not everyone….
#1. Bushwhacked: Thanks to the misleadership of our President, the world took no action at Bali to reduce emissions, we had a sham international “climate summit,” the country continues to take no national action on greenhouse gas emissions, Congress was forced to drop almost all non-oil-related provisions to cut GHGs from the energy bill, the EPA blocked California and other major states from regulating tailpipe GHGs on their own, the Administration keeps muzzling climate scientists, and it keeps misallocating scarce clean tech dollars to hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research at the expense of real and timely solutions like energy efficiency and renewables — and that’s just the stuff we know about for sure!
Cheney Bush and his henchmen (and henchwomen), the nation and the world have lost another crucial year — and are almost certain to lose another one next year — when, in fact, “What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future.” Our person of the year, who mistakes inflexibility for leadership, and consistency for wisdom, has also made the story of the year: President George W. Bush doesn’t just fiddle while the planet burns, he actively fans the flames and thwarts the fire-fighters.