According to the June 2011 consolidated information from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), as reported by The Guardian, the last 300 months have all had above-average temperatures and the 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997.
The first data for 2011 from NOAA, reported by http://www.climalteranti.it, indicate an increase of the average global temperature of 0,40 °C for the year in comparison to the average recorded in the period 1961-1990. The more significant rise is recorded in the northern hemisphere, examplified by a warm December in Montreal and an unusual winter with rain, instead of snow, in Trondheim (Norway). Levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are by now close to 400 ppm (parts per million), a value never reached before.
The list could continue with a mass of other data, but all would confirm the same conclusion: the Earth’s temperature is rising. And this is happening at an ever faster rate.
A counteracting global action is not only an option, it is becoming absolutely necessary. This is the task that former Senator Ted Kaufman is urging Congress to tackle in 2012. The USA is still one of the most critical countries whose contribution is needed in order to achieve a global deal and what happens in this country is crucial for the future of the planet.
A few years ago, Ian Fry, the representative of Tuvalu at the UNFCCC negotiation, lamented that a handful of US senators were substantially deciding the destiny of almost 7 billion people.
A change is necessary and urgent, but, scientific evidence notwithstanding, it may be difficult to achieve in a country where some politicians insist in denying Darwin’s theory of evolution and where climate-sceptic lobbies provide generous support to the election campaigns of their favorite congresspersons.
In his recent book ‘Fools Rule‘, William Marsden puts at around US$725,000 the total contribution given by oil and gas companies and by the Kock Industries to three candidates during the midterm Senate races in 2010: Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio and Tom Coburn. “There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth,” Roy Blunt has repeatedly stated. If a sufficient number of Blunt’s colleagues takes the same approach, it is very unlikely that in 2012 Congress will listen to Ted Kaufman’s urgent appeal.
And yet, with the evidence of a rapidly approaching disaster mounting daily, it is becoming harder to sit by and wait for political change to occur. It is therefore no surprise that activists are trying to mobilize a grass-roots movement to put pressure on Congress. The task is difficult but not impossible. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in Australia in 2007, when Kevin Rudd replaced John Howard, one of the most vocal opponents to any action to fight climate change, and in less than a couple of weeks ratified the Kyoto Protocol. That change occurred because Australia was in the grips of the worst drought of the last 100 years and the public’s priorities were immediately affected, pushing climate change to the top of the political agenda. And when Kevin Rudd was unable to follow up with strong legislation on climate change, he was quickly booted out of office and substituted by Julia Gillard. Now, despite strong opposition from the coal sector, Australia is one of the first countries to have introduced a carbon tax (A$23/t CO2) and is planning to introduce a cap and trade system similar to that which exists in the EU.
Looking back to the serious climate events recorded in the US in 2011, it seems possible that a public outcry on climate change might put pressure on Congress, as happened in Australia in 2007.
For NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro, as reported by The Guardian, “In many ways, 2011 rewrote the record books. From crippling snowstorms to the second deadliest tornado year on record to epic floods, drought and heat, and the third busiest hurricane season on record, we’ve witnessed the extreme of nearly every weather category.” It is no surprise that 2011 is being called the “year of the tornado.” The damage from weather-related disasters has been enormous, with more than 14 disasters, each costing over $1bn and total estimated financial losses over $50bn.
For scientists and US policy makers this may not come as a big shock, considering that, at the COP 16 in Cancun, during the presentation of the Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010, the United State was highlighted with several large red dots in the document, showing that the country was destined to pay a high tribute for strong weather events caused by climate change.
But this report was probably not common reading among the overall population so that what happened during the last year may still have come as a surprise and facilitate a change in people’s priorities.
For this reason, all the world is now looking with particular attention to the US primary election season, well aware that once again the winners of this process will hold in their hands the future of the world.
The positions of the candidates on this issue are not harbingers of good news. The front-runner, Mitt Romney, has been defined byLisa Hymas in Grist as one of the more sane Republicans when it comes to climate change. But his views have changed over time. In 2004, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he unveiled a Climate Protection Plan that aimed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and then about 10 percent more by 2020.
He wrote in his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness: “I believe that climate change is occurring, the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control.”
During a forum in Pennsylvania, in October 2011, he retreated even further on the issue: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
No doubts on climate change for Rick Santorum: “There is no such thing as global warming,” he stated on Fox News in June 2011. He actually seems to regard it as a liberal conspiracy: “It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative,” as quoted by The Guardian. And Ron Paul simply regards climate change as a big hoax.
While Americans vote, the rest of the world watches, aware that the same oil lobbies mentioned above are still working to deny the existence of climate change and to obstruct any legislative initiative against it.
People concerned about climate change can only hope that citizens in the US will follow the same path as those in Australia. After all, as Marsden reminds us, at the end of 2010 California voted 61,4% against Proposition 23, strongly supported by oil companies. Its aim was to undermine the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was enacted in 2006 and which could provide a basis for a nationwide law for effective CO2 emission reduction in the US. In 2010 the oil lobby lost an important fight, but it remains to be seen if that was an isolated case or the first step towards real change in the US policy on global warming. Observers are now watching to see how many people during the caucus, and the other primary election meetings, will raise their hands and ask the candidate “What’s your strategy to fight global warming?”