400 Parts Per Million: Global Climate Change a National Security Disaster and Global Existential Risk

The recent milestone of CO2 reaching 400 parts per million of our atmosphere is surely a wakeup call as are the many natural and ecological disasters that almost every part of our globe has experienced over the last decade. Carbon dioxide is the primary global warming pollutant and much of it has been injected into our air by human activities.

Scientists have known about this problem of climate change for decades. I devoted a whole chapter to the question in a book entitled Global Challenges: A World At  Risk published in 1979, as did hundreds of scientists and other experts  throughout the 60s, 70s, ands 80s.  No one really paid much attention who had the power to actually do something meaningful.  We got some global action via the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but despite several other major global meetings resolute binding actions were not forthcoming. However, this was NOT the fault of the UN or its related organizations which made major efforts to advance concrete actions, the fault lies with the leaders of the nations participating.

Now after many disasters, the question of climate change has gathered the attention of some affected citizens, some in the media, and academics around the world. But neither the political will nor the public demand has driven nations and global institutions run by governments to act decisively to reduce the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses getting into our atmosphere.

The reasons for this inaction and the lurking disaster it portends for all humankind are many.

First, the opposition has been of what one can call the “flat earth” types who for ignorance or political or economic interests are climate change “deniers.”  The science is against them but facts and science have increasingly had little influence on those who profit from citizens’ ignorance. American opinion polls have shown hefty minorities who do not believe in climate change and man’s role in the CO2 increase.

Second, is the role that money increasingly plays in American politics has grown thanks in part to the Citizens United decision. Its influence and that of the very conservative rich elements have largely cornered the market on governmental decisions and media outlets, through control over Congressional action, state governments, and not least over the Supreme Court.

Third, the impact of the global economic and fiscal crisis abroad and at home brought on by greed and in some cases criminal acts by management of banks and financial institutions, brought about the resulting austerity policies in Europe. This was led by Germany’s counterproductive demands for slashing government spending, which causedmass unemployment in many EU countries. When you are experiencing a major recession that looks to many as a depression, you worry about putting food on the table, not about global warming and paying for necessary new remedial programs.

Fourth, has been the fundamental weakness of the international institutions and system of governance to address and deal with major global challenges. We have denied them the tools to act effectively and the blame rests with our governments and not with the institutions themselves. We have not given the resources or the authority to carry out actions that are required to fully address the crisis we are facing.  Part of this fault has been the Republican war on international cooperation and institutions in America. This weakness was shown by the inability to agree to a binding global framework convention on global climate change. Global agreement was undercut by the diverse opposing positions: the developing world wanted the “rich nations” to act alone to deal with the problem or pay for any effort.  Some key developed nations i.e. large polluters like China, America, Australia, etc. were driven by narrow economic influences and did not have the political will to sign up and in the end ratify a binding treaty.

So, in the face of these large obstacles what can be done?

The first action is to change our policies by changing our politics and legislative bodies, the education of our people, and scientists speaking out to inform our citizens of the impending dangers and proposing programs that will address global warming. A little courage by our politicians would help a lot also.

On a global level, as long as there is a series of intransigent national and international obstacles and weak leaders, we need to make smaller regional and sector matter agreements and initiatives that create a serious start to slow global warming and its impact on our fragile globe. The EU efforts to cap CO2 and develop clean renewable energy sources are an example. So are the actions by California to lower its energy use through conservation and efficiency programs, which is spreading to other states and regions.  President Obama’s push for rapid R&D and installation of solar energy is a key way to address the problem on a unilateral basis but has been fought tooth and nail by the Republicans and some Democrats in bed with the dirty energy barons.

Our media and schools and churches would help by not giving credence to bad and indeed wrong ideas such as so called “science” that denies climate change and its causes.  But that requires honest and disinterested media which is a rarity in America. However, here again citizens and experts can speak up (too few do) and challenge the mindless and false views from Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and their ilk. The problem, as Pogo said, is us.

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