Daddy, Could We Have Our Planet Back Now?


TOM FRIEDMAN: “In your June 26th [2013], Georgetown speech on climate you concluded by saying ‘Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could … and I want to be able to say, Yes we did.’ How are you doing with your girls?”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Every day I think about what I’m leaving behind for them … The truth is we’re not yet doing all that we need to do. Now, the good news is that America has actually made significant progress over the last five years.”

On one hand, I wonder, should I be blogging on Father’s Day? On the other hand, what more important day is there to blog on climate change than Father’s Day? So as a compromise, I’m updating a post.

Salon published my Father’s Day essay back in 2010. It was a sequel of sorts to “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?

As parents, we constantly admonish our children to share with others. The joke is that as adults, we hardly like to share anything at all. Who likes to lend out their car? Or their tools or books? We’re so worried they won’t come back in the same condition — or won’t be returned at all.

But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” the saying goes. Right now, though, we’ve borrowed the entire Earth, trashed much of it, and don’t plan to give back the rest of it. So much for intergenerational equity.

We are plundering the world’s “renewable resources” — arable land and tropical forests and fisheries and fresh water. And we are using an ever-greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons, with devastating consequences.

As one example, our carbon pollution is acidifying all of the oceans while simultaneously heating them up to record levels, threatening mass extinction of aquatic life. Australian marine science professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the lead author of a major study on acidification, says the result is that “we are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.” He adds, “It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day” — except, of course, the smoke comes from our addiction to fossil fuels, not the Earth’s.

The website RealClimate points out that the amount of dangerous carbon dioxide we spew into the air each day from burning fossil fuels and deforestation is roughly equivalent to “five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once … every day for decades and centuries on end.”

And if we listen much longer to those anti-science disinformers who have been counseling inaction, we won’t just be trashing the climate for our children, we will be destroying a livable climate for countless future generations. A 2009 NOAA-led study found that “the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.” What kind of changes? Well, besides destroying the oceans, the study warns of “irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ‘dust bowl’ era and inexorable sea level rise.”

The dust bowl that will hit the American Southwest and Great Plains and a half-dozen other heavily populated regions around the Earth — a third of the planet! — will likely last far, far longer than the one that devastated the Great Plains in the 1930s.

And the latest science makes clearer we are risking a sea level rise of four to six feet by century’s end, which then continues rising an inch per year every decade, until all the land-based ice on the planet is gone and seas are more than 200 feet higher. How will our children’s children and their descendants adapt to that?

Conservatives have demagogued even the most moderate, business-friendly proposal to put a price on carbon, falsely labeling it an “energy tax.” President Obama failed to press hard for the passage of a Senate climate bill in his first term. As a result, the prospects have dimmed for serious climate legislation for the foreseeable future.

The good news is the President is finally using the bully pulpit to raise the profile of the climate issue and has taken action to use his EPA authority to limit power plant carbon pollution emissions. The bad news, as Obama told columnist Tom Friedman in a recent interview for the Showtime TV series “Years of Living Dangerously,” is that “we’re not yet doing all that we need to do.” To say the least.

To refuse to place a serious price on carbon dioxide pollution is to ignore the damage your actions today will inevitably have on the health and well-being of your children and everyone else’s children — billions and billions of children in the coming decades and centuries. Something to think about on Father’s Day.