• Looking to the future
    December 03,2012

    Few of us are prepared, by education or disposition, to fully grasp the arguments waged between those who urgently warn us that global warming is a clear threat to our future and those who insist either that the threat doesn’t exist or, if it does, that it isn’t caused by human behavior and therefore shouldn’t be addressed by legislation designed to change that behavior.

    But all of us should be able to understand one aspect of the debate: If the scientists (and especially the politicians) who genuinely believe global warming is caused by or even seriously influenced by human behavior are correct, then the consequences of not confronting that behavior could be disastrous for future generations. Just ask Bill McKibben.

    On the other hand, if the skeptics — and there are plenty of them right here in Vermont— are correct, what harm will have been done if steps are taken based on the belief that the threat is indeed urgent and, in fact, scientifically provable?

    Politics aside, the basic argument of critics of those who fret about global warming is that the solutions being advanced, such as a carbon tax (which has even gained at least some support from political conservatives), will cause unwarranted financial harm to utility companies and their investors. To find an arresting array of these arguments, simply go online and write “global warming” in the subject box.

    In the meantime, those of us who understandably remain uncertain about this hot-button issue might want to consider the observations of British novelist Henry Porter (“Brandenburg Gate”) published Saturday in The Guardian, a London newspaper that is respected for its reliable journalism.

    “Two years ago, just 57 (percent) of Americans believed climate change was happening,” he observed. “By March this year, the number had risen to 66 (percent) and by September to 70 (percent). That survey was taken a month before tropical storm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, but after a series of heatwaves and wildfires, the Oklahoma dust storm, crop failure and the unprecedented drought, it is clear that the penny has dropped about extreme weather events.”

    It would be interesting to know if these figures have changed since the widespread human and financial costs associated with Sandy generated new discussion of the possibility that indeed global warming is accelerated by human behavior. Here in Vermont, we’ve experienced our own miseries because of extreme weather unlike that typical for our state.

    There are always those who sense a conspiracy and therefore scoff at the cries of global warming, but the more logical opposition is based on the financial calculations that would be part of any measures proposed to minimize the problem, they seldom acknowledge the financial damage droughts do to farmers, to those that insure the farmers and even to their consumers.

    This is essentially a political confrontation between those who see global warming as a clear and present danger requiring governmental intervention, regardless of cost, and those who insist that it is a political ploy designed to punish the businesses that would pay the highest prices for any remedies enacted.

    Yet Porter sees a silver lining: “The most surprising fact … is that the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute is prepared to contemplate the idea (that global warming is real) and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has murmured that a carbon tax would not violate his principles.”

    Norquist’s influence may be waning but lobbyists for the oil and coal industries won’t timidly oppose any legislation that would impact their bottom lines. Let them be heard, but let’s never forget our children and grandchildren.

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