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Too hot to handle?

Global warming is a subject seldom talked about in transportation circles. It's rarely on the agenda at conferences, an unlikely subject of discussion at industry lunch and dinner meetings and I haven...

Global warming is a subject seldom talked about in transportation circles. It’s rarely on the agenda at conferences, an unlikely subject of discussion at industry lunch and dinner meetings and I haven’t heard of many contracts including an energy efficiency clause.

Considering the role transportation plays in emitting the greenhouse gases that power global warming, and the subsequent regulatory curbs that it may face in the future, it’s curious that this should be so. Curious but understandable – after all most of us have been ignoring the consequences of global warming for the past 25 years.

I’m sure most have picked up enough through media reports to have a fair idea of what could lie ahead if we don’t bring under control the greenhouse gases that currently power our economy but threaten to warm our planet by two to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That seemingly small increase in temperature is enough to raise sea levels as much as three feet by the end of this century, thanks to melting glaciers and swollen oceans, according to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a peer-reviewed collaboration among thousands of scientists that is considered the leading authority on climate change. Considering about half of the world’s 6.5 billion people live near coastlines, that’s a huge concern. Global warming could also make for far more powerful hurricanes, more heat waves, droughts and species extinction [there has already been documented evidence of such].

So why aren’t such threats receiving more of our attention? I can see five major reasons.

* First, because climate change is a complicated issue and that in itself leads to resistance.

* Second, because it’s natural that we don’t want to let go of the fuels that have powered our civilizations since the dawn of the industrial era and brought us great prosperity. Can we be certain there’s a need to take action? A year ago, the national academies of science of all the G8 nations, as well as those of China, India and Brazil, released a joint statement declaring that climate change was a grave problem that required immediate attention.

* I’ve recently come to understand there’s a third reason behind our inaction: we’ve been lulled into a false sense of uncertainty. Much of the public argument against the science indicating that our greenhouse gas emissions are driving global warming has been carried by lobbyists and paid spokesmen who attempt to reposition global warming as theory rather than fact. The goal is not to win the debate but rather to keep the debate going. It’s the same tactic that was used to great effect by the tobacco industry for decades to counter evidence about the addictive qualities of cigarettes and the impact of second hand smoke. For example, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition was created [in 1993] to debunk the dangers of secondhand smoking before it moved on to global warming, warns Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chaired the 1994 hearings where tobacco executives unanimously declared under oath that cigarettes were not addictive.

* Fourth is the distinct problem raised by US president George Bush’s staunch refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the problematic but so far only successful global accord to take action on greenhouse gas reduction. Considering the US is the world’s largest emitter, this is a thorny problem but by following the US lead we are placing the future of our planet in the hands of a president who during his time as governor of Texas allowed the state to become the worst in the US for emissions of toxic and ozone-causing chemicals not to mention carcinogens harmful to small children. [That’s from a Republican report by the way].

* The fifth and final reason for our inaction is the understandable concern about the impact that taking action could have on our economy. Yet energy efficiency investments have a proven record of creating jobs and boosting profits. Every fleet manager who has implemented a fuel saving program knows this. Why are we not directing more resources towards alternative technologies, including carbon sequestration, a method of capturing and then safely storing the carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of fossil fuels? If reducing emissions is as disastrous for economic growth as Bush – and our own Conservative government suggest – why is it that the British economy has grown by about 40% since 1990 while that country decreased its emissions by 14%?

In our News Focus this issue managing editor Julia Kuzeljevich reports on the actions many forward-thinking members of the transportation community are already taking to reduce emissions. It’s worth reading. Failing to take action may prove the largest dereliction of duty – whether you’re a politician or a company executive – this century.

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