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Cold Realities on Global Warming

Global warming and what we should do about it is definitely, pardon the pun, a hot issue. My last column urging industry and government to get off their collective butts and take action as well as our...

Global warming and what we should do about it is definitely, pardon the pun, a hot issue. My last column urging industry and government to get off their collective butts and take action as well as our feature stories about the shippers and carriers already doing so generated several calls and e-mails.

Many, while conceding transportation’s role as significant contributor to greenhouse gases, expressed the same concerns: How can we possibly make a logical decision, one way or the other, given the complexity surrounding climate change – we can’t even get our weekly weather forecasts right half the time, how can we predict what’s going to happen in 50 years?

Others pointed to the conflicting information that’s out there – some consider global warming a grave problem requiring immediate attention, while others, including some scientists, agree with James Inhofe, chairman of the American Senate’s environment and public works committee, when he calls the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated.”

The science of climate change is indeed complicated and uncertain and we are still learning. For example, we’re just discovering how swarms of lowly thumb-sized ocean creatures that resemble chains of Gummy Bears transport tons of carbon daily from the ocean surface to the deep sea thus preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect. (See Guy Crittenden’s blog on for a more detailed explanation.) But, as I mentioned in my last column, the science behind global warming is not quite as uncertain as some suggest and field observations are supporting the models. Arctic ice, for instance, is melting suspiciously fast at 9% per decade as are glaciers.

So why then the confusing debate between those who believe that our way of life is under threat and those who share an equal conviction that scientists, socialists and (egads!) the liberal media are out to spend taxpayers money and bankrupt businesses based on bogus science? Because, unfortunately, the issue of global warming has become politicized. Left wingers want the world’s nations to commit to taking action and right wingers just think the left wingers should be committed. It would actually be rather comedic were the issue not so important.

On issues split along partisan lines I’ve learned to get at the truth by bouncing the views of one side against the views presented by the more respectable information sources of the other side. And to also look for important splits of opinion on either side.

Despite the Bush administration’s aversion to any legislative assault on climate change, the Republican governor of California, Hummer-driving Arnold Schwarzenegger, has committed the richest state in the US to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 25% by 2020. And then there are people like Jim Woolsey, former head of the CIA, who drives a Prius and is part of a new coalition whose members disagree about almost everything but the need to address global warming. Or T. J. Rodgers, a fiercely anti-regulatory entrepreneur who is underwriting the production of solar cells to be offered as a standard option for new home buyers in California by government decree. There’s plenty more examples and they all point to the same thing: opposition to taking action on global warming or joining the Kyoto Protocol is no longer uniform in the US Republican ranks. I wonder if the same could be said among our own Conservatives.

As I write this I’ve received my latest copy of The Economist. I’m sure many of our readers receive this respected publication which also has the reputation of not exactly being left of centre in its editorial stances – it favors growing globalization and supported the war against Iraq, even after no weapons of mass destruction were found, for example. Global warming is its cover story and lead editorial. I will give them the last word:

“Is it really worth using public resources now to avert an uncertain, distant risk, especially when the cash could be spent instead on goods and services that would have a measurable near-term benefit?

If the risk is big enough, yes. Governments do it all the time. They spend a small slice of tax revenue on keeping standing armies not because they think their countries are in imminent danger of invasion but because, if it happened, the consequences would be catastrophic…Similarly, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the risk of a climatic catastrophe is high enough for the world to spend a small proportion of its income to prevent one from happening.”

Lou Smyrlis, MCILT, Editor

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