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Cancun Climate Change Summit Ends: Not Such a Hot Issue?

3 years ago
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Here's a bet that I probably won't be able to collect upon: I wager that in 50 years, historians gazing back at now will pay less attention to the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, or even the economic downturn. They will wonder why present and past administrations did not sufficiently respond to the threat of human-induced climate change. If the scientific consensus is on the mark, the planet is likely to heat up by several degrees in the next half-century, and this will cause all sorts of severe consequences: droughts and other extreme weather, disease, species extinction, water shortages for tens of millions of people, rising sea levels, and more -- which could cause conflict and dislocations around the globe.

Yet this long-term (but quickly approaching) problem -- which at some point might no longer be redressable -- has become largely a ho-hum matter. Look at the tepid response to (and the tepid action of) the recent U.N. climate summit that concluded a few days ago in Cancun. Far more many people can tell you what happened with Bristol Palin on "Dancing with the Stars" than what transpired in the conference centers of Cancun.

After two weeks of wrangling, 193 out of the 194 nations present backed two agreements. One postponed a decision on the future on the Kyoto Protocols, which binds most industrial nations to global warming emissions targets (though not the United States, which didn't ratify the pacts). This accord is set to expire in 2012, and Russia and Japan have signaled they want out of the treaty -- especially since the United States, China, India, Brazil, and other major emitters last year cooked up their own deal, under which these nations have to abide by voluntary limits each sets for itself. The second agreement reached at Cancun covers that deal, establishing more specifics for it. Still, there are two bottom lines. First, the emissions limits for these big polluters remain voluntary. Second, they fall far short of the supposed goal of keeping global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius. Even though Cancun was considered moderately successful by its participants -- largely because negotiators kept the process going -- what's being negotiated is not sufficient to address the potential threat.

The conference did produce a few steps forward. There was an agreement on preserving tropical forests (tropical countries that reduce deforestation will receive compensation from developed countries) and setting up a Green Climate Fund of $100 billion or so that (if funded) will provide financial assistance so developing countries can restrain their emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change.

As important as these advances are, they don't compensate for the lack of an overall global commitment to serious reductions in emissions. While President Obama once vowed to lead the world toward climate protection, his negotiating team was not able to push for a comprehensive global deal, given that the U.S. Senate failed to pass clean energy legislation. And the prospects for extensive legislation in the next Congress are low. (In fact, the number of climate-change-deniers will go up in both the House and Senate, thanks to the GOP victories in the midterm elections.) As I pointed out last week, Obama and administration officials have not been saying much (if anything) publicly about climate change and the Cancun conference.

Environmentalist groups have tended to talk up Cancun's silver linings. (Friends of the Earth did slam the agreements as "a wholly inadequate response," noting that they do little to limit a global temperature rise that will "devastate human civilization and the natural world.") Whatever the gains of Cancun, global emissions are outpacing these international talks. Yet with Obama not pounding the bully pulpit on this matter -- he is busy with other immediate challenges -- there are few, if any, superpower leaders urging the world to action truly commensurate with the potential problems ahead. Though Al Gore and other enviros a few years ago appeared to have pushed the United States toward a tipping point in favor of significant action, now climate change is no longer a hot political issue. (This article is likely to draw far fewer eyeballs than one on Dick Cheney's love child. What? You didn't hear about that? Well, maybe I'll get to that in the next column.) Sen. John McCain, once a leading advocate for climate change action, nowadays is much more obsessed with gays in the military than global environmental disaster. Insert your own punch line.

"World leaders must significantly raise their game if we're to meet the challenge of climate change," says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for Union of Concerned Scientists. "Time is running out, and the atmosphere doesn't negotiate with politicians." Sadly, politicians don't negotiate unless they feel the heat. Though the effects of climate change are mounting, the heat is no longer on.

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12 Comments

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AL

The answer to your problem of "global warming" is addressed in the first paragraph. The projected famine that climate change believers postulate will destroy the cause, man. Once that happens the earth will return to the state it was in before man destroyed it. If you believe such nonsense.

December 16 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
kalpal

iffy science predicted powered flight but those critical thinkers in the know were fully aware of the impossibility of it. They considered themselves supremely rational and thoroughly thoughtful. They also knew for a fact that evolution was just so much hogwash and that the evidence contrary to it was unassailable.

It would appear that some people are incapable of distinguishing between belief and knowledge. It is the lot of humanity to keep on pulling "Condi Rice" shrugs and ptoclaiming who'd have thunk it.

December 15 2010 at 11:10 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kalpal's comment
Jon

As a planetary scientist I can unequivocally tell you that throughout geologic history the planet Earth was essentially an icy planet that occasionally warmed up. The planet is now in one of the warming periods. Facts are difficult things when they don't agree with your preconceived notions about "climate change". Here's another one for you. During the time of the dinosaurs, which lasted approximately 230 million years, yeah that's right, the dinosaurs remain one of the most successful lifeforms in the history of this planet, the Earth was a severely greenhouse planet. If not for a 6km asteroid/meteoroid they would probably still be here. If you go to Al Gore for your "science" you deserve what you get.

December 15 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
ngpcdhs

Why will you not just give it up? The "science" behind global warming has been exposed as nothing more than manipulation of data to support an agenda. An agenda, I admit, I do not understand. Your credibility suffers when you support an issue that has little basis in fact. Perhaps you should examine why it is so important to you for global warming to be true. We got scammed. Hey, it happens.

December 14 2010 at 12:56 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
rat5678

"Those scientists don't know nothin'" the deniers say as they type on their computers. (I guess computers are grown on farms by people who don't "believe" in science.) The computers work by magic, as anybody knows. Science is bogus. Facts are stupid things. Also, deny gravity. Who needs it?

December 14 2010 at 11:45 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rat5678's comment
oldengineera2

As I type on my computer in subzero, near-blizzard conditions, I do so having reviewed the data claiming to correlate human activity to cataclysmic climate change. I remain unconvinced. Not a denier, not a flat-earther, not a screwball; merely a man of science and invention who finds the case less than compelling.

December 14 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
ttdq

From what I have read, it would appear that the countries that are not industrialized have all agreed that India, China, and the United States should supply them with money to help them fight climate change. They have agreed to this and at the same time are cutting down the rainforests around the globe. It is time for us to admit that those who wish to make money will do anything and say anything. Instead of simple things being done to correct the problem, the only solution is to supply money. Look what that has done for Hati so far.

December 14 2010 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
jhanson2463

If these scientists were actually so darn smart wouldn't they have the good sense to hold these meetings in the summer when we might have some sympathy for the idea of global warming? Instead as these guys are packing their swimsuits those of us in the upper midwest are digging out of a blizzard and preparing for subzero temps tonight. Personally I'm praying for a little warming and my biggest concern about polar bears is are they going to show up in WI.

December 13 2010 at 1:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hardinnl52

Maybe instead of excoriating the world for its inaction in regard to "iffy" science and "iffy" consensus, the logical conclusion from recent meetings is that the nations of the world have admitted and confessed to their fraud and are going to back off of the "gospel truth" alleged in recent years about so-called warming. Al Gore stood to become the first carbon billionaire until the East Anglia frauds were revealed last year. His organization is collapsing. The leaders of the third world urge the passage of the treaties because it means billions of dollars. Not calling for human survival and drastic measures to insure it, only calling for wealth transfer from industrialized nations. "Global warming" or "Climate change" are just environmentalist stalking horses for their longstanding antipathy for human populations and the carbon credit fraud is their way of bribing nations to go along. In the 1970s the threat was global cooling, then it became global starvation, now it is global warming. Just the other day, (Thanksgiving Day), an Austin newspaper featured a story about the LAST WARMING PERIOD IN CANCUN, 120,000 years ago, when the seas rose 7 or 8 feet. The story was about human-made global warming and its threat to coastal populations, although it predicted a sea-level rise less than before. The LARGEST POINT was blithely 100% overlooked - that there WAS a previous warming period of much larger proportions - and it could NOT have been man-made. We have to abandon the politics and honestly evaluate the science.

December 13 2010 at 10:28 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jtzeph

Historians 50 years from now will look back and marvel at the arrogance and lust for power of the "Climate Change" lemmings. This movement is the exquisite distillation of everything liberal, now pursued from an international perspective with no escape. The hubris and delusion of characterizing a multi-millenia cyclical phenomena, and fashioning predictions to 1/10 of one degree is a mis-application of science and a degradation of same.

December 13 2010 at 9:14 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
dewayne

The global warming was proved to be a scam when the hackers intercepted the scientific e-mails and found admissions that temperature reports had been falsified. There may indeed be human climate change, but most of it comes from destruction of the rain forests: Come and see the Great Brazilian Desert in 2080, second only in size to the Sahara....

December 13 2010 at 8:42 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
chicrav13

Global warming summit in Coppenhagen snowed out last year. This year-in Cancun- 3 days of straight record cold temps. Sommeone upsatirs is proving we have no control over the climate. While pollution control is important (and the worst culprits are having no part in prevention), the US is made to feel if they throw money at it it will resolve. The earth changes- period. We are in a cooling stage, they can not lie any longer.... Altering data scams, scaer tactics to the kids, lonely polar bear photos (more polars now then ever), the jig is up.

December 13 2010 at 6:52 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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