Climate Change and Politics

I am an avid reader of New Scientist and any articles in reputable newspapers and magazines (especially online) on scientific issues.  Yesterday I read about the view of several candidates for the US Republican presidential nomination who held, what seems to me, quite scary views on climate change and science in general.  I am no scientist but have lived enough years on this planet to realise something is going on.

Firstly, it is widely accepted that most living things survive within an ecosystem; and that includes humans.  Plants and animals in the wild exist and closely interact and depend on the environment in which they live.  We humans have a long history of tinkering with the environments and ecosystems of animals, much to their detriment, leading many to near or actual extinction.  Think of Tasmanian Tiger (0), white rhinoceros (5), tigers (less than 4,000) just to name a few off the top of my head. Hunting and habitat destruction are the main causes.

Secondly, human beings have increased exponentially, especially since the industrial revolution in the western world.  Now Asia and China want to get in on the wealth and prosperity industrialisation brings and that means using technology that pollutes.  So far the flora and fauna have been the major sufferers but now it seems there is too much pollution and the whole Earth ecosystem is stressed.  Witness the initial hole in the ozone layer that is now closing due to our removal of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs),  halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform.  The Montreal protocol required these be phased out by 2000 and methyl chloroform by 2005.  The hole is now closing and protecting us from the sun’s radiation.  This all happened before the eastern countries began heavy industrialisation.  It is an undisputed fact that carbon emission is the highest it has ever been and, despite this knowledge, continues to rise.  Emissions from manufacturing and mining, coal based electricity generation but also from the farm animals and humans themselves (in the form of methane) is adding to the load and as the population on the planet grows so do the emissions.

From what we have already learned about ecosystems it seems anyone with a small application of common sense it becomes clear that something has to give, and it seems the planet’s weather is the first sign of stress.  In fact, there have been warnings about climate change from the Antarctic ice melts in 1995.  These have been steadily increasing and I have personally seen the loss of ice in the New Zealand South Island glaciers – the Franz Josef and the Fox in 2001 and 2002 – it was noticeable over an 18 month period between visits.  This is not to mention extended draughts, more wild-fires and what is currently happening in the Sudan and other African countries in terms of famine.

I know the arguments that this is just a normal phase for Earth but in the past these phases have taken thousands of years to come about, not merely 100 years. The Kyoto Protocol has provided little in the way of large-scale emission reductions although some countries have shown commitment (Germany).

Finally, it seems to me that there is a general groundswell of agreement amongst my peers, friends and family that there is an issue of climate change which will affect us all in the future.  I suspect that at the level of everyday people there is a belief, based on good science as well as their own observation, that something is happening.

We have been looking to our politicians but their own infighting and struggle for power seems to take precedence over our survival even if, as in Australia, one party was elected on the grounds of doing something for the environment and it is hampered because of a power struggle with the opposition which is using misinformation to gain support (just like in the current US Presidential nomination race).

So, simply saying that science get’s it wrong sometimes so there is no proof of climate change makes me wonder who is funding the campaigns of these would-be US Presidents – could it be the manufacturing industries that pollute heavily and don’t want any impact on their profits?  Whether this is so or not, it certainly makes me wonder.

We live together on this planet and so far there is nowhere else to go and will not be for many, many years yet.  I support all those trying to do something but it seems a crazy world if people who dare to go for positions of power, do so using questionable means.

I am an optimist.  I am sure science will be able to assist in the long run to save all our backsides from total annihilation.  But I at what cost first?