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Effects of Global Warming on Climate Change

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 24, 2003

As Effects of Global Warming Result in Dramatic Climate Change, U.S. Continues to Resist Reduction of Greenhouse Gases

Interview with Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

In 1989, environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote "The End of Nature," the first book about global warming written for a popular, rather than a scientific, audience. He noted some of the changes already apparent from global warming and predicted the dire consequences if the world didn't reduce its use of fossil fuels. He concluded the book by writing, "The only thing we absolutely must do is cut back immediately on our use of fossil fuels." Since then, the world -- both developing and industrialized nations -- have significantly increased their use of fossil fuels. The vast majority of climatologists agree that global warming is a real phenomenon, not just a theory, and recent events -- like sustained record high temperatures and the massive die-off of the world's coral reefs -- continue to drive that reality home. However, most people still don't see global warming as directly impacting their lives.

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Now, at the end of 2003, the U.S. Congress is poised to pass a comprehensive energy bill. While the legislation does not permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- which was a litmus test for support or opposition in previous versions of the bill -- it is seen by many as a giveaway to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus recently spoke with Bill McKibben about the current state of the earth's climate, its impact on humans, and what he thinks can be done at this stage to alter a worst-case scenario.

Bill McKibben: You know, we should probably no longer talk about climate change as something that's coming in the future. It clearly is here on top of us now. This summer in Europe they recorded the highest temperatures they'd ever recorded, in some cases seven, eight, nine degrees hotter than it had been before. And in the course of that summer, something like 25,000 Europeans died. These people were just exactly like us -- they had modems and refrigerators and telephones, and all the accoutrements of a modern life. Their bodies were just not prepared to cope with that kind of temperature.

Between The Lines: They didn't have air conditioning, I guess, for the most part.

Bill McKibben: Probably not, or the funds to run it enough, or whatever. We see all kinds of big changes now occurring in the natural world. Every glacial system in the world is in rapid retreat. Arctic ice is about 40 percent thinner than it was 40 years ago. This is with about one degree Fahrenheit of human-caused global warming. The temperature is about 60 degrees globally averaged now, up from 59 degrees. It doesn’t sound like much, but it turns out the earth’s physical systems are finely balanced, and that small changes can yield large results. And now the climatologists tell us that without dramatic changes in the way we power our lives, this century will see a further increase of, best guess -- not the worst case scenario, best middle-course guess -- about 5 degrees F. before 2100. Just to give some frame of reference, the earth hasn’t been that warm, as far as anyone can tell, for 300 million to 400 million years. Temperature goes up, wind speeds increase because they follow, you know, pressure gradients -- borders between warm and cold. Sea levels rise because warm water takes up more space than cold water does. Seasons begin to shift in dramatic ways. Ice melts … on and on and on down the list. Only volcanic and tectonic forces are left largely untouched by human beings at this point.

Between The Lines: Living in the United States, I guess I would have to say, with an ever-increasing sale of SUVs and with a president who seems determined to develop every possible form of fossil fuel and ignore many of the other ways of reducing the use of such fuels which increase global warming, it does seem to me here that people are either being willfully blind or just don’t want to bother to think about it. How do you shift that balance? Your book was obviously an important contribution to the debate, but, you know, that was almost 15 years ago, and it’s kind of mind-boggling to think that we’re still selling more SUVs than ever … SUVs didn’t even exist 15 years ago, I don’t think.

Bill McKibben: That’s right. Fifteen years ago when people would say, "What can we do about this?" I would say, and others would say, well, we could drive smaller cars and drive them less. And you’re right, that didn’t accomplish very much: We now drive much bigger cars and drive them much more.

It is worth saying that the earth as seen from the United States is not the whole picture. Other places are doing interesting things. The rest of the industrialized world has signed onto this Kyoto Treaty and is now making serious long-term plans for dramatically reducing their carbon emissions. The UK, Holland, France, all have talked about and put forth plans for 50 and 60 percent reductions in CO2 emissions over the next generation or two. It’s probably not quick enough or quite large enough, but it’s certainly dramatic evidence that people there are taking these things seriously.

In our country, at the moment, under Vice President Cheney’s new energy policy, Americans are projected to increase their CO2 emissions on the order of 40 percent in that same period, over the next generation or two. Public policy in this regard is immature, well, almost to the point of insanity. We just can’t bring ourselves to begin making the public policy choices that we need to make. We need to make fossil fuels more expensive, and to do it quickly. And I must say it’s been a largely bipartisan effort. The Clinton administration, where people really knew about and at some level cared about these things, presided over a 15 percent increase in our CO2 emissions as a nation, largely because we did nothing to stop the conversion to SUVs. At the moment we’re in a complete disaster. I mean, the current occupant of the White House seems determined not only to ignore the situation but to make it worse in every that way he can. And so Job 1 is clearly his defeat at the polls next November. But that in and of itself is unlikely to get us very far in this particular fight. Job 2 is figuring out how we are going to mature quickly.

For contact informationa and related links visit our website at for the week ending 11/28/03:

-"Partisan Power Loss"

-"New View of Data Supports Human Link to Global Warming"

-"Changes Sought in Energy Bill"

-"Energy Measure Would Limit Liability of MTBE Producers"


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( ), for the week ending Nov. 28, 2003. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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