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Better Late Than Never

Posted by A birch tree on May 30, 2008

I chose that title only because I’m an optimist at heart.

So it seems that the White House has finally released its most comprehensive Climate Report to date… four years after the deadline. And then only because the court ordered them to release it.

Oddly enough, the report says, yes, there is global warming, yes, it is our fault, and yes, it will have a significant and deadly impact on American lives. There’s a shocker. Would Bush have suppressed it for half his presidency if it had said anything different?

On the upside, at least he didn’t try to stealth-edit this one, right?

There’s a cloud to this, and then there’s a silver lining to this. The cloud is that most of the predictions made back in 2004 have already come true; had we been warned, we might be having a better time of it. The silver lining, unfortunately, is a bit morbid: the report talks about things we’re seeing now, but hadn’t yet seen at the time the report was made. It’s a primo example of the predictive power of properly-applied scientific theory, as opposed to the pseudo-scientific reactionism that opposes it.

If it had come out in ’04, and then we saw the results it predicted, our woefully short national attention span would have completely forgotten that these things were previously forecast, and then came to pass. With the late release, we have sudden attention placed on the report and its predictions while the effects it warns of occur simultaneously.

It’s really hard to call global climate forecasting “junk science” and be taken seriously when such a stark juxtaposition exists, as both prediction and observed effect are lodged in the national consciouness at exactly the same time, ready for anyone with three working neurons and access to Yahoo! News to compare and contrast.

Let’s take a moment to review. The report forecasts:

  1. Increased deaths from heat. Between 1978 and 1999 (19 years), 7421 deaths in the US were heat-related, a median of 274 per year. Between 1999 and 2003 (4 years), 3442 deaths were heat-related, an average of about 688 per year. This one is a “hit”.
  2. Worsening water shortages. If you think it’s bad in Atlanta, you should see the rest of the world. Another “hit”.
  3. Increased electricity demand in the summertime, possibly leading to shortages in the longer term. The peak electricity demand in the US was 12.1% higher than in 2004, and 4.0% higher than in 2005. “Hit”.
  4. Increased wildfires. The number of acres burnt in the last 5 months is already double the 2001-2008 average. “Hit”.
  5. Increasing insect infestations. It’s tough to find accurate data about the US, as this isn’t usually a newsworthy topic, but other countries, like Sweden, are certainly seeing this one. Should I call this one a “hit”?
  6. Increased cases of water- and food-borne disease outbreaks. This is the only one I couldn’t find any supporting statistics on, and more for lack of time than anything else (even though I’m friends with the guy monitoring everyone’s computer time, I can still only ask for a reset so many times in one day).

In the end, Bush may have done more damage to his anti-climate-change crusade by stifling this report for four years than he would have caused had he just released it when the law said he had to. Who remembers anything that was in the news in 2004? We forget major events appallingly quickly around here, maybe as a symptom of a people with such a relatively short history to begin with. But coming out now, just as most of the things it predicted are coming into the limelight as well? In addition to the suspicious-looking skullduggery of sitting on the report until the courts forced him to release it? Ouch.

It’s getting harder and harder to deny that we’re in deep poop. I’m starting to worry if the whole point of said denials is to postpone any significant actions until it’s too late to fix anything, if it isn’t already. I mean, from the time global warming was first proposed in the 1970’s, the forces arrayed against it seem to have been engaged in a delaying action. First, they ignored the idea entirely. Then they said “There is no such thing as global warming.” Now they’re starting to say “Maybe there’s such a thing as global climate change, but it is absolutely not our fault and there’s nothing we can do about it,” and maybe tomorrow it’ll be “Well, I guess you were right, there is global climate change and we did cause it, but it’s too late to stop it now. Oh well!” and all the while the status quo of energy consumption and radical consumption ideology will prevail.

Scary stuff, yo. I’m gonna go hide under my mattress now.

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