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IPCC issues plan for global climate change

May 4, 2007

In Thailand today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) held a press conference to announce its Fourth Assessment Report which gathers together the research, opinions and prognosis of 2,000 scientists around the world. According to MSNBC, “the report said the world has to make significant cuts in emissions through increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and vehicles, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable fuels, and reforming both the forestry and farming sectors.”

According to MSNBC, the report warned:

The document made clear that nations have the technology and money to decisively act in time to avoid a sharp rise in temperatures that scientists say would wipe out species, raise ocean levels, wreak economic havoc and trigger droughts in some places and flooding in others.

Under the most stringent scenario, the report said the world must stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2015 — eight years from now — at 445 parts per million to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees over pre-industrial levels.

For the past year, many prominent scientists have warned that allowing greenhouse gases to surpass 450 parts per million would make dangerous climate change more likely, particularly the melting of Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets.

Which countries were ambivalent toward the report? The two industrial countries that are most responsible for CO2 emissions in the world: the United States and China. Their objections? Ecomonic, not scientific. Go figure.

Is it just me, or is it the Right (and not the Left) that politicises global warming? I often find global warming labelled as an agenda-laden “doomsday” prophesy echoing from halls of the political Left. And yet, it seems to be the Right that is always bringing economics into the picture in response to scientific reports on climate change.

I was watching a documentary the other evening on CNN that was sardonically rebutting Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. There was a handful of scientists commenting on Gore’s project. Funny thing is, not one of these scientists actually attempted to show how the IPCC is misreading the scientific data. In other words, even if the IPCC is doing bad science, which it has been accused of conducting, why are the scientists who oppose it not answering the IPCC from a strictly scientific stance? After all, the IPCC makes the data it interprets public, yet those scientists who swear that there is no link between human activity and climate change do not seem to want to look at the data. Instead I hear things like “CO2 is good for the environment” or “We are only on the climate up-swing after a mini ice age”. These points may indeed be true and demonstrable, but where is the statistical and scientific analysis that looks specifically at the data from which the IPCC is making its judgments? Rule number one in debate is to engage your opponents’ points, premises and conclusions. Wouldn’t it be more helpful for all of us if those skeptical scientists would show us precisely where the IPCC is misinterpreting the data? After all, I can open up a middle school earth science textbook and find how a natural balance of CO2 is essential to life or that the earth experiences climate patterns.

The same CNN documentary suggested that human activity does nothing to affect climate change, and it propped up two suggestions for consumers:

1. We should switch to mainly nuclear power in the U.S. not because of pollution, but because it is cheaper and more efficient (a political-economical assertion);

2. We need the right combination of innovation and capitalism to produce automobiles that run on electricity, not because auto emissions are harming the environment, but because they would help cut down on the U.S.’s economic dependency on Venezuela and the Middle East (a political-economical assertion).

I do not see the IPCC so explicitly or transparently forwarding any political agenda. The truth is, I can only see the political agenda coming from the Right when it comes to global warming. Is the Right protecting corporations from environmental regulations? Is it protecting globalized economy? Is it promoting a capitalist and industrial agenda for U.S. corporate gain? Whatever the case may be, the Right-wing position on global warming, which is more economics than scientific, has seduced a number of good-willed American Catholics into villanizing the mere suggestion that there is any human link to climate change. As I said before, the Right strikes me as the more dogmatically ideological on this question.

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