Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Climate Change and Preparedness

      The disagreement between climatologists and deniers goes on. In a 2009 survey, 97% of respondents who listed climate science as their area of expertise, and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change, agree that human activity is "a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures."
      In a recent CNN poll of the general public, when the question “. . . from what you have heard or read, do you believe increases in the Earth's temperature over the last century are due more to the effects of pollution from human activities, or natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities?", 50% replied human activities, 46% said natural causes, and 4% were unsure.
      There seems to be a general mistrust of the findings of science, which I believe is due primarily to the constant barrage of false information put out by organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the energy business. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that Exxon-Mobil spent $16 million from 1998 to 2005 to “manufacture uncertainty” about global warming.
      This is just one case. Another is the daily garbage output spewed by experts (read “entertainers”) such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Thomas Sowell, et al.
      Secondly, I believe that some of that mistrust is due to the failure of our educational system to emphasize the importance of science. According to a National Science Foundation report, science ranks behind ten other subjects in terms of people’s interest, a bad situation in view of the fact that approximately 50 percent of all legislation in the U.S. government has some aspects of science in it (NPR 2002). So much for a well-informed electorate.
      Unfortunately our representatives in Washington have fallen for the disinformation laid on them by the highly-paid lobbyists of the energy system. Even worse, some of them actually have a vested interest in the system. And of course, they are all products of an educational system which has let us down in so many ways.
      A recent series of calamitous natural events has given some people second thoughts about climate change: the fury of hurricane Katrina; super heat waves in Russia, the United States and Africa; and flooding which has affected some 20 million people in Pakistan, has people asking, “Is this due to the predicted climate change?” And science’s answer: “Probably.”
      Keeping in mind the statistical axiom that “correlation is not causation,” a good scientist will not state something as a fact until there is a proven connection. But because the above phenomena fit so closely into the pattern predicted by climate change science, neither will he rule it out.
      But I digress. Most people agree that climate change is happening, and real consequences, most of them dire, will result. The cause is immaterial for the point I wish to make: We can prepare for and mitigate the bad effects.
      (1) The federal government should invest in a solid foundation of information for decision-makers and establish a national program to assist states and localities in undertaking formal assessment and disclosure of climate risk and potential regional impacts.
      (2) Using the information assembled through step 1, state and regional planning agencies, in conjunction with FEMA, should develop improved management plans for emergency preparedness in the event of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, exacerbated by global warming.
      (3) Global warming hazards should be incorporated into public disclosure requirements for property owners and managers of publicly traded companies on environmental risks and liabilities, similar to requirements governing flood plains and earthquake zones.
      (4) Building on the example of the National Highway Trust Fund, a dedicated resource should be established to meet new and growing threats to homeland security, at both the national and community level, from climate change.
      (5) In conjunction with public utilities, a system of micro-grids should be created that would include on-site generation of renewable electricity sources that can withstand interruptions in flows of natural gas and electricity, while continuing to ensure critical services like traffic signals, pumping stations, emergency response services, and other critical energy needs.
      A major advantage of such a program is that it would be available to mitigate the effects of any disaster, natural or man-made. I know it will be expensive, but it will be even more expensive if we wait until disaster strikes.
      . . . is a little trickier; here I am thinking of a mental or instinctive construct. It could be a plan, say for a business or invention, or it could be a concept, e.g., a political ideal, free will, consciousness, etc., or it could be a thought experiment or a scientific theory, or it could be the recipe for mother’s chicken soup. It could also be the idea behind the behavior of a sea otter when he cracks an oyster shell on a stone on his chest, or the reason gray whales migrate to a Mexican cove for mating. It includes any “thing” we can conceive but not hold, touch or otherwise detect by the use of the senses or other instruments.
      Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

      The book or a free download is available in  paperback or on Kindle.

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