Monday, July 14, 2008

Fran Alexander discusses climate change in Northwest Arkansas Times column

CROSS CURRENTS : Getting personal
Fran Alexander
Posted on Monday, July 14, 2008

Fran Alexander's climate-change column in Northwest Arkansas Times

Full fathom five thy father lies: Of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. The Tempest — William Shakespeare There are many times when the debate becomes personal between those who believe the planet is in real trouble with those who obviously don’t. I realize we environmentalists are looked on as Henny-Pennys running around saying the sky is falling, while we believe those who do not see the situation that way are burying their heads in sands of denial. Both opinions are reaching tipping points, those moments in time when there is a sea change, a transformation when nothing is ever the same again.

If climate specialists are correct, we have less than a decade to lower our carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions, and that means starting now, not waiting still longer to change what we are doing. If we do not throw some of our behaviors into reverse, global changes will come more rapidly and probably more intensely than we can adapt to peacefully as a global population, especially since we do not get along with each other too well even now. At the rate we are pumping CO 2 into our atmosphere, by the end of this century, when our grandkids might still be alive, actual sea changes will have occurred with ocean levels rising 15 feet or more and wiping out coastal cities and islands the world over. Already the Arctic ice has decreased by half and Greenland is melting around its edges. And if you think immigration is an issue now, in a few decades this current movement of people from country to country will look like a walk in the park.

In the last 200 years we really got busy stirring our industrial pots and revving our internal combustion engines. We also doubled and redoubled our human population and will do so again by 2024. We know from Antarctic ice coring data that for thousands of years carbon dioxide particles held at around 280 parts per million (ppm ) of air particles. It stands to reason, therefore, that probably we industrializing humans might have had something to do with the rise in only two centuries to today’s levels of 380 ppm (and increasing at 2 ppm per year ).

If we get to 450 ppm it’s “Goodbye Charlie” — or more scientifically put, it’ll be way too late to reverse massive global damages or reincarnate ourselves out of our mess. So, what to do?

Well, as usual, our health is in the hands of politicians who are in the hands of economic barons. We citizens have, in lieu of money and organization, only our numbers with our massive buying power, which impresses barons, and our voting numbers, which impresses politicians. We’ve gotta use our numbers (Here’s where things get personal. )

If we think globally and act locally, citizens will tackle global warming by doing a few things. We will write some letters and e-mail, we will make some phone calls, and we will tell our friends to do the same. At a graduate level, we could boycott some bad corporate players, change some of our consuming ways, and publicly ask some hard questions of our politicians.

Arkansas’ Legislature has established the Governor’s Commission on Global Warming for creating legislative recommendations in the January 2009 session. These folks have major work on their hands in finding a path for curing the state’s warming problems that many refuse to believe exist. Not least among those problems is that the greatest greenhouse gas of them all, carbon dioxide, is not regulated as an air contaminant by our state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Ah, if only it was as easy to eradicate pollution as it is to manipulate definitions and play with semantics !

This little word problem could wreak havoc if it is not fixed since it is possible that the gigantic 600 megawatt coal-burning power plant proposed to be built near Texarkana will, along with another one now being built at Osceola, belch out enough to raise Arkansas’ CO 2 emissions by 16 percent. However, if CO 2 is declared a contaminant that must be regulated, then this plant, which would spew 5 million tons of CO 2 a year, and future coal burning utilities will have to be judged on their air quality contamination and regulated accordingly.

So, our own personal and immediate first assignment to begin to reverse CO 2 in our state is to personally contact the people on the Global Warming Commission and tell them it makes no sense for the state’s right hand to be fixing problems with policy while the left hand is actually opening the doors to millions more tons of CO 2. Since industry is contacting them individually and singing the praises of coal burning in all its various yet still heavily polluting configurations, we should also contact them. If you write only one letter and send it to each of their email or home addresses, that would do nicely.

Although the governor’s commission contact information is not yet on its Web site Governor's Commission on Global Warming Web site but it can be found on a blog developed by citizens Carbon Caps Task Force
where global warming information is posted. Another good source of general information is at
Newsletter available by e-mail from Robert McAfee of the Governor's Commission on Global Warming
If you have difficulty finding the commissioners’ contact list, e-mail me or try List of members of Governor's Commission on Global Warming with contact information

Our species is on the brink of self-correction or willful neglect so we can either put our big brains to work or join the dinosaurs at “ full fathom five. ” There are solutions, many which are simple and others seemingly close to impossible. But if we suffer the sea change within ourselves first and get off our backsides and make a little effort, our future could, as Shakespeare put it, become “ something rich and strange. ”

I like the sound of that.

Fran Alexander is a local resident and an active environmentalist.

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