|February 8, 2007|
||Act or Step Aside|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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Act or Step Aside
Last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report represents “history’s most definitive statement of scientific consensus on climate change.” Its main findings: global warming is “unequivocal” and human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950. If left unchecked, it will destroy our habitat. “It’s time to end the debate and act,” House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) says. “All the naysayers should step aside.” This morning, Gordon chaired Congress’ first hearings on the findings of the IPCC (details here). These proceedings should be the beginning of a thorough and sustained examination of the report’s findings — by Congress, the media, and ordinary citizens. The IPCC report cannot fall off the radar, because the alternative is waiting for disaster to compel us into action. “Does it take a crisis to get people to go along a new path or can they respond to a series of rational, incremental gains in knowledge?” asked Ralph J. Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences. “That’s the question.” If we answer that question correctly, the good news is there is still “an enormous amount the international community could do to avert climate change if swift action was taken,” says Dr. Graeme Pearman, who helped draft the report. (A good first step: the aggressive Global Warming Reduction Act sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA).)
THE PROCESS: Climate change skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) says the IPCC’s report is “a political document, not a scientific report.” In fact, the power of the IPCC findings are in their exhaustive scientific rigor. “The main science report — more than 1,600 pages in its draft form — was compiled by 150 scientists as main authors, another 400 scientists as contributing authors, a team of review editors, and some 600 reviewers. The document went through two rounds of reviews. And unlike past efforts, review editors required chapter authors to respond to each responsible review comment.” Researchers utilize the latest technology — scientists at the federal Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory “devoted half of their supercomputer’s time for a year running models for the latest report” — and “every government in the world” approves the summary for policymakers released last week. “Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process,” one climate scientist notes. “This is a very conservative document – that’s what makes it so scary.” Indeed, the process is at times so ploddingly exhaustive that “many top U.S. scientists reject [the] rosier numbers” about sea level rise because the calculations “don’t include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets” in Greenland and Antarctica.
THE SHIFT: The findings of the new report are most dramatic when compared to language used in previous IPCC statements. The panel’s first report released in 1990 found that rising temperatures were “broadly consistent with prediction of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability,” meaning “the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability.” Five years later, the IPCC argued that a “balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” In 2001 report cited “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” In the latest report, it states that warming is “very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations.”
WORLD CHANGING: Continued global warming is predicted in the new report, leading to a “huge disruption to agriculture, more floods, heatwaves, desertification and melting glaciers.” Droughts will be longer, flooding rains will be rarer but heavier. “Cyclones will hit harder. Violent storms and extreme heatwaves will strike more frequently. Evaporation will suck up scarce inland water. Sea levels will creep up half a meter. Oceans will be so acidic that in some places shells and reefs will dissolve.” The increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 “more likely than not” can be attributed to man-made global warming, the report finds. Australia, currently in the grip of its worst recorded drought, is warned that the Great Barrier Reef will “become ‘functionally extinct’ because of coral bleaching.”
THE HUMAN TOLL: The impact of global warming will be catastrophic, “forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants” — dubbed climate refugees — “whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.” Climate change will bring water scarcity to between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people by the end of the century; an additional 200 million to 600 million people across the world “would face food shortages in another 70 years, while coastal flooding would hit another 7 million homes.” “The message is that every region of the earth will have exposure,” says Pearman. As the poles warm and substantial parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt or disintegrate, “we may be essentially remaking the face of the Earth by putting a lot more water into the ocean, reconfiguring the coastal zone, drowning areas like river deltas, where tens of millions of people live in some countries, like the Netherlands, Bangladesh, the Louisiana delta in this country.” Princeton climatologist Michael Oppenheimer calls it “the most pervasive and most threatening consequence of global warming. It will be very expensive. And once it gets under way, it’s essentially impossible to stop.” Meanwhile, the poor in developing countries “will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out, as “the annual costs of climate change impacts in exposed developing countries could range from several percent to tens of percent of gross domestic product.”
THE SPIN: A White House letter released yesterday laments that, following the release of the IPCC report, “a number of media reports perpetuated inaccuracies that the President’s concern about climate change is new.” Actually, the White House says, “Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem.” But just last year, Bush claimed there is still “a debate over whether [global warming] is man-made or naturally caused.” Moreover, the White House says, “climate change has been a top priority since the President’s first year in office.” In fact, Bush has consistently rejected stronger measures to combat climate change, even as carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have increased by 354 million metric tons since 2001, including the “largest annual amount ever produced by any country on record.” He has also cut NASA’s earth science budget by 30 percent since taking office. Last week, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman again rejected the idea of limiting U.S. emissions. “We are a small contributor to the overall, when you look at the rest of the world, so it’s really got to be a global solution,” he said. In fact, the U.S. emits a quarter of global carbon emissions, more than any other country, despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population. Furthermore, the Bush administration has rejected global solutions, from 2001’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol to last week’s dismissal (along with China and India) of a new global body aimed at slowing warming.
HOMELAND SECURITY — WAXMAN TO TAKE ON FAILED COAST GUARD CONTRACTS: “Even as contractors built patrol boats with buckling hulls and a large new cutter with structural flaws, a U.S. Coast Guard review gave their performance high marks last year, extended their deal for nearly four years and paid them a multimillion-dollar bonus,” the Washington Post reports. “Coast Guard analysts evaluated only boats, aircraft and equipment systems that had been delivered under its troubled $24 billion, 25-year fleet-replacement program, known as Deepwater, disregarding defective ships under development by companies led by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.” Government investigators slammed the Deepwater program as an example of how the federal government has ignored problems with private contractors. ”The Deepwater and SBI contracts are extreme examples of giving government functions to the private contractors,” Waxman said. Donald “Boysie” Bollinger, a “friend of George W. Bush for a quarter century,” runs a company that is responsible for some of Deepwater program’s worst mistakes. Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) will hold a hearing to examine what went wrong. (Watch it live starting at 11 am.)
CULTURE — BUSH’S BUDGET PROPOSES SLASHING PUBLIC BROADCASTING FUNDING: President Bush’s recently unveiled FY2008 budget proposes to cut federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) by nearly 25 percent. “Public TV and congressional sources said at least $114 million of the $460 million CPB budget for the fiscal year that starts in October would be cut.” PBS spokesman Lea Sloan said that the proposed cuts would be “disastrous” for public TV stations. “It could mean the end of our ability to support some of the most treasured educational children’s series and primetime icons to which CPB funding contributes,” said Sloan. Under the Bush administration, the CPB has steadily pushed right-wing priorities. Former CPB chairman Ken Tomlinson came under fire in 2005 for trying to put a conservative slant on public broadcasting and resigned later that year. He attempted to push out liberal commentator Bill Moyers and the Bush administration pressured the Public Broadcasting Service to cut the children’s show “Postcards from Buster” because it had an episode featuring two lesbian couples in Vermont. Later in 2006, Bush renominated Tomlinson as chairman of Broadcasting Board of Governors and recently nominated right-wing National Review columnist Warren Bell to the CPB board.
NBC newsman Tim Russert testified yesterday that it was “impossible” that he told Libby about Valerie Plame because he did not know about the CIA agent at the time of his conversation with Libby. He added that Libby had called to complain about NBC’s coverage of the Plame affair: “What the hell is going on with ‘Hardball’?” Russert quoted Libby as having asked him.
U.S. military officials reported that a helicopter operated by a private security firm came down in Iraq last week, marking the sixth downing of a helicopter in three weeks. “American officials say the streak strongly suggests that insurgents have adapted their tactics and are now putting more effort into shooting down the aircraft.”
Many State Department employees “have outright refused repeated requests that they go to Iraq, while others have demanded that they be assigned only to Baghdad and not be sent outside the more secure Green Zone.” The employees who do sign up for Iraq duty have “tended to be younger, more entry-level types, and not experienced, seasoned diplomats.”
The bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom yesterday warned “that the Bush administration, in its zeal to secure the nation’s borders and stem the tide of illegal immigrants, may be leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to deportation and harsh treatment.”
President Bush has proposed a significant jump in funding — 31 percent — “for an anti-drug advertising campaign that government-funded research shows is at best useless and at worst has increased drug use among some teens.” The program is Rep. Dennis Hastert’s (R-IL) “baby,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“President Bush’s proposed war budget includes many high-cost weapons that won’t be operational for years, using a funding request aimed at supporting the troops to seek money for some of the Pentagon’s favorite projects.”
Seven Senate conservatives, five of whom voted to protect President Bush and block debate on Iraq earlier this week, “changed course yesterday and vowed to use every tactic at their disposal to ensure a full and open debate” on Iraq. “The current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country,” they wrote in a letter to Senate leaders.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), under federal investigation over several land sales he made, lashed out at media publications who he claimed “have an agenda” in pursuing the story. Miller is accused of having lied about a land deal and sheltered $10 million in profits from capital gains taxes. Ex-aides have alleged that he abused his power.
And finally: Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) knocked ’em dead at this week’s Congressional Correspondents Dinner. “Kennedy said he recently visited Boehner when he was on the House side and noticed that the Ohio legislator was working on a jigsaw puzzle. Six months later, Kennedy stopped by Boehner’s office again — and Boehner was still working on putting the puzzle together. ‘John, that’s a long time to be working on a puzzle,’ Kennedy said. ‘No, it’s not,’ Boehner supposedly replied. ‘Right here on the side of the box it says three to five years.'” Ba-Dum-Bum.