March 16, 2009

Climate Scientists Struggle To Convince Public Of Urgency

Climate scientists are continuing to uncover new revelations about the impact of man-made global warming on the Earth's future, but many face frustration when it comes to informing the world's population of the urgency of such findings.

"Science is exciting when you make such findings," Konrad Steffen, who heads the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado, told AFP.

"But if you stop and look at the implications of what is coming down the road for humanity, it is rather scary. I have kids in college -- what do they have to look forward to in 50 years?"

Last week, researchers converged in Copenhagen for a three-day international congress to discuss procedures necessary to change the Earth's outlook.

Among several things discussed last week, experts revealed that global sea levels are set to rise at least twice as fast over the next century as previously thought.

"Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk," experts noted.

But sharing this information to the public and to political leaders is another challenge these experts are facing.

"It's as if scientists know a bomb will go off, but can't find the right words to warn the people who might be able to defuse it," AFP explained.

"At first, I thought that we could convince people. But there is a terrible inertia," French glaciologist Claude Lorius told AFP. "I fear that society is not up to the challenge of a crisis like this. Today, as a human being I am pessimistic."

John Church, an expert on sea levels at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research CentER in Hobart, Tasmania, said: "perhaps society has realized the seriousness, but it certainly hasn't realized the urgency."

"But even if you are pessimistic -- and sometimes I am -- it does not help. What are you going to do? Chop off your hands and give up? That's not a solution either," he said.

Economists seem to view the climate change dilemma as an opportunity to revitalize the world economy.

Last week, Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, called for $400 billion in public funding for the green sector over the one to two years.

"Emissions are growing faster than we thought, the absorption capacity of the planet is less than we thought, the probability of high temperatures is likely higher than we thought, and some of the effects are coming faster than we thought," said Stern.

"If all G-20 countries adopted a 'green New Deal' similar to the one proposed by President Obama, the world economy would be greatly strengthened, especially the sectors producing low-carbon technologies," said Terry Barker, director of the Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research of the University of Cambridge.

"But global coordination is critical. Any single country's New Deal may fail if its extra demand for goods and services is met with imports. If we act together, everyone's exports will increase and we can recover employment much more quickly," he told the New York Times.

"There is some evidence that harder greenhouse gas targets and regulation may actually increase benefits through improved innovation and distribution of low-carbon technologies and increased revenues from taxes or permits. These revenues can be spent to further support new technology and to lower other indirect taxes, ensuring the fiscal neutrality of these measures."


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