Tomgram: Christian Parenti, Big Storms Require Big Government
Posted by Christian Parenti at 9:11am, January 26, 2012 TomDispatch
At some basic level, climate change shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Fossil-fuel burning — the essence of our civilization since the industrial revolution — dumps prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. As it happens, 2010 was another banner year for carbon dioxide production; the 5.9% rise in CO2 emissions was the “biggest jump ever recorded.” That greenhouse gas, in turn, traps heat and so warms the planet. The results are clear enough for anyone to see. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. Last year was the ninth warmest on record, despite an expected cooling effect from a strong La Niña temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean.
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More heat means more turbulence, which means more extreme weather events, which have clearly been on the rise — more wetness, more droughts, fiercer storms. In that category, 2011 was definitely a year for the record books, with an unprecedented 14 weather events that each caused $1 billion or more in damage. More extreme weather means more human misery, relatively predictable globally, but reasonably unexpected when it actually hits locally.
The urge not to believe that we are despoiling our own planet has meant that we’ve been slow to develop alternate energy sources, but not slow to grow economically. What that means, of course, is that the search only intensifies for more fossil fuels, ever tougher to get as time goes on and ever “dirtier” (in greenhouse gas terms) to produce.
It’s the definition of a nasty feedback loop, made worse because the changing planet is itself setting off other phenomena that only increase the warming trend. Arctic sea ice, now melting at prodigious rates, reflects the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. Less ice, in other words, isn’t just a sign of the planet getting hotter, but a factor in heating up the planet. In addition, the more iceless the oceans, the more their waters absorb carbon emissions, which only puts further pressure on many of the life forms living in them. Similarly, the melting of the permafrost in the northern reaches of the planet, which contains vast frozen reservoirs of another greenhouse gas, methane, might — no one is yet sure — sooner or later release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, only increasing the overheating effect. It’s creepy. It’s happening. And Ma Nature really doesn’t give a damn whether we’re in denial or not.
Sooner or later, undoubtedly, denial will give way to… well, who knows what? Christian Parenti, author of a new book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, that, under the circumstances, couldn’t be more relevant or recommended, has some thoughts on why it’s time to stop cursing big government and think more seriously about what its role might be in the future that awaits us. —Tom