Published on Truthout (http://www.truth-out.org)
Marching Off the Cliff
Tuesday 6 December 2011
by: Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed
A task of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, now under way in
These decisions trace back to the U.N. Convention of 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which the
As the delegates meet in
“Americans do not perceive that there is a scientific consensus on the need for urgent action on climate change â(euro) [ A large majority think that they will be personally affected by climate change eventually, but only a minority thinks that they are being affected now, contrary to views in most other countries. Americans tend to underestimate the level of concern among other Americans.”
These attitudes aren’t accidental. In 2009 the energy industries, backed by business lobbies, launched major campaigns that cast doubt on the near-unanimous consensus of scientists on the severity of the threat of human-induced global warming.
The consensus is only “near-unanimous” because it doesn’t include the many experts who feel that climate-change warnings don’t go far enough, and the marginal group that deny the threat’s validity altogether.
The standard “he says/she says” coverage of the issue keeps to what is called “balance”: the overwhelming majority of scientists on one side, the denialists on the other. The scientists who issue the more dire warnings are largely ignored.
One effect is that scarcely one-third of the
It’s no secret that the
To gain perspective on what’s happening in the world, it’s sometimes useful to adopt the stance of intelligent extraterrestrial observers viewing the strange doings on Earth. They would be watching in wonder as the richest and most powerful country in world history now leads the lemmings cheerfully off the cliff.
Last month, the International Energy Agency, which was formed on the initiative of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974, issued its latest report on rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use.
The IEA estimated that if the world continues on its present course, the “carbon budget” will be exhausted by 2017. The budget is the quantity of emissions that can keep global warming at the 2 degrees Celsius level considered the limit of safety.
IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said, “The door is closing â(euro) [ if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum (for safety). The door will be closed forever.”
Also last month, the U.S. Department of Energy reported the emissions figures for 2010. Emissions “jumped by the biggest amount on record,” The Associated Press reported, meaning that “levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario” anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
John Reilly, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program on climate change, told the AP that scientists have generally found the IPCC predictions to be too conservative – unlike the fringe of denialists who gain public attention. Reilly reported that the IPCC’s worst-case scenario was about in the middle of the MIT scientists’ estimates of likely outcomes.
As these ominous reports were released, the Financial Times devoted a full page to the optimistic expectations that the
Though projections are uncertain, the Financial Times reports, the
In this happy event, the
Just about every government is taking at least halting steps to do something about the likely impending catastrophe. The
This reactionary behavior is one of many indications of the crisis of
The hypothetical extraterrestrial observers can be pardoned if they conclude that we seem to be infected by some kind of lethal insanity.
© 2011 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.
© 2011 The New York Times Company
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