What’s the difference between a self-delusional prophet proclaiming the coming end of the world and practically all the climate scientists in the world concluding that climate change is largely the result of human activity? The answer is that the climate scientists have hard evidence; they know what they’re talking about.
But what about political leaders around the world who choose not to believe the scientists? Those political “leaders” argue that the scientists are wrong, that reducing carbon dioxide levels will be too costly, that industry cannot afford it, that economic growth will be slowed, that jobs will be lost, that government regulation is bad for business and personal freedom, and that climate scientists have a self-serving agenda.
Such shortsighted—even backward—political views about climate change bring to mind the metaphor of the boiled frog, which is not literally true but is commonly used to illustrate indifference to gradual change. The metaphor goes that a frog placed in hot water will jump out, but a frog placed in cool water and gradually heated will enjoy the soak and quietly die.
The report this month of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group under the auspices of the United Nations, raises alarm bells that should wake political leaders to the need for early action, not continued foot-dragging financed by corporations protecting their bottom line. Some of the world’s leading scientists and economists serve on the panel. They highlight a number of serious threats from global warming, including:
- Polar ice caps are melting and collapsing
- Longer droughts are stressing water supplies
- Widening crop failures threaten world food supplies and increase poverty
- Heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying
- Mountain snow caps are declining
- Rising oceans threaten coastal cities and communities
These threats exist now and are almost certain to get worse unless coordinated international action is taken in the near future. Leading economies, namely, the United States, China, Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, and India are mainly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. These economies have to assume a leading role in rolling back emissions by using cleaner energy sources, adopting new and more efficient technologies, and assisting poorer countries in coping with the effects of climate change on their populations.
Political paralysis in dealing with climate change is rooted in anti-science attitudes that are held widely in certain segments of the public. Politicians get their share of the blame, but so do voters who send representatives to hold the line against big changes in the way we do things.
The IPCC estimates that coordinated international action is needed by 2020 in order to stave off current climate trends. Without such action, they estimate that by the year 2050 it would become nearly impossible and far too costly to reverse the damage.
The authors of the IPCC report are not self-delusional doomsayers. They have hard scientific evidence and they know what they are talking about.
The burden rests with those of us who have a voice in choosing our leaders. If we are wise we will choose wise leaders. If we do not, the harshest damage will fall on the generations to follow ours. The IPCC report is a wake-up call to act in the near term, not a snooze alarm to shrug off what we now know and rest calmly in the bath water while the heat is gradually turning upward.