For many years now environmentalists and scientists have been clamoring for aggressive moves against climate change: emissions limits, regulation, alternative energy sources, etc. Unfortunately, until now much of their warning has gone unheeded at our government’s most powerful level, especially for the duration of the Bush administration.
Well now we have a more environmentally conscious administration under President Obama, who speaks big about renewable energy and energy efficiency. But, in at least some ways, it appears to be too late. According to the research arm of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), much of the damage of which we are seeing early signs — rising seas, increased drought, global warming — cannot be reversed. And not just over the next 20 or 30 years, but over the next 1,000 years.
Not really the news we were looking for, eh? Although I must admit that it is not that surprising. Many of those same environmentalists and scientists have also been shouting that we were crossing a point of no return. My personal reaction to hearing the news was more one of frustration. I’m willing to bet that this report was ready and waiting several years ago, but only now have bureaucratic and political barriers been lifted.
Yet, honestly, this is no time to dwell in the past. Nor is it time to throw in our green towels and take the kids to the zoo to see the polar bears one last time. No, if anything now is the time to ramp up our vigilance, to push solar, wind, geothermal and other renewables even faster, while we’ve got an open window to do it.
The NOAA report lists many possible repercussions, quantified by projected levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, if CO2 levels peak here then expect this, and so on. Just one of these is that “coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged.” Yet they don’t seem to know exactly what will happen over the next millennium, partially because they do not know how long we’ll continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They just know that the train is rolling and it will be some time before it can stop.
The report predicts that we’ll be feeling the effects of climate change for the next 1,000 years, like it or lump it. Well then, let’s stop it there. We now know the harm industry has been causing the environment and our own livelihood, yet still we continue to send carbon up our smokestacks, and sludge still finds its way into our rivers and streams.
I posit that climate change is not irreversible; it’s just sticking around for awhile, a long while. And as much now as ever before, how long it sticks around is up to us.