Climate Change: "We Must Confront the Fierce Urgency of Now"

Creating scenes reminiscent of a blockbuster movie, Sandy marked a time when the climate crisis became real for many Americans. Caused by warmer weather over the world's oceans, it was a brutal reminder of what the future may look like if global warming continues to run riot.
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Summer ice in the Arctic will vanish in less that 40 years. That's according to the final draft of the UN's blockbuster climate report which comes out this Friday.

"A nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely," says the draft according to the Financial Times.

This marks a much faster pace of warming than the UN previously forecast. In 2007, it said that such ice would not disappear until "the latter part" of this century.

And, scientists are now concerned about the fate of the region's permafrost. They worry that it will eventually melt, ushering in what has described an "economic time bomb" as huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released into the earth's atmosphere.

Although there is much debate about when this will happen, it is widely expected to accelerate the current pace of global warming.

This new forecast for the Great North is one of the most striking aspects of the UN's upcoming report. The product of four years of hard work by over 800 scientists across the globe, it is the most comprehensive study on climate science in recent years.

And, as the UN's conclusions are always drawn from a consensus process, they tend to sit on the more conservative end of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, the report has already come under heavy fire from American conservative groups like the Heartland Institute. Through an endless stream of articles, op eds and blogs, such groups have been trying to discredit both the UN, and the science behind global warming.

Funded by energy companies and other sympathetic interests, these so called think tanks receive millions of dollars every year to sow doubt: to keep the debate about climate change alive.

Heartland shot to dubious fame last year after it ran a controversial billboard campaign comparing climate change believers to the "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski. It's the same group that tried to cast doubt on the link between smoking and cancer in the nineties.

But, in spite of the millions of dollars spent on such campaigns, many activists believe that these underhand tactics will fail to resonate with most people who can see the devastating effects of climate change with their own eyes.

The UN's upcoming report comes 10 months after Superstorm Sandy swept across the northeastern seaboard to leave much of New York City submerged under water.

Creating scenes reminiscent of a blockbuster movie, Sandy marked a time when the climate crisis became real for many Americans. Caused by warmer weather over the world's oceans, it was a brutal reminder of what the future may look like if global warming continues to run riot.

So far, world temperatures have risen by around 0.8 degrees Celsius. But, according to the World Bank, that number may more than quadruple over the next fifty years. It says that a "four degrees Celsius world can, and must be avoided."

Given the gravity of the situation, many western scientists and governments are already discussing plan B options such as geoengineering.

Geoengineering hopes to cool the Earth by using various controversial methods such as putting giant mirrors into space; spraying aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight; and fertilizing the oceans with iron to create giant algae blooms that absorb carbon.

As such ideas have the capacity to "substantially" cool the planet, the UN has included some of them in its upcoming report. But, it does warn that these methods risk "unintended side-effects, and long-term consequences on a global scale".

"The public and policymakers need to be on guard against being steamrollered into accepting dangerous and immoral interventions with our planet, which are a false solution to climate change," says Silvia Ribeiro from the technology watchdog ETC Group.

Clearly, governments and companies the world over need to tackle the problem head on: by reining in emissions at home.

As the U.S. and China are the world's largest polluters, any hope of saving our planet will depend on the commitment of these two powerhouses.

Last week, Barack Obama pressed ahead with tough requirements for new coal-fired power stations. The move marked his first effort as U.S. president to set strict limits against carbon pollution.

The move came a few weeks after Washington and Beijing announced plans to rein in a key ozone-depleting chemical. That deal followed their June pledge to stamp out highly polluting HFC's from refrigerators and air conditioners.

Taken together, there are now hopes that the world's two largest economies are getting serious about saving our climate.

But, as David King, the UK's former head scientist points out: "politics and diplomacy" alone "are unlikely to solve the problem. He says that "only one thing is guaranteed to solve it: technological advance [...] To defeat the axis powers, the allies developed the atom bomb. When threatened in the cold war, the U.S. sent a man to the moon. When threatened by global warming, we surely need a similar effort to save the planet." ... Something that engages the best minds from every nation -- something that is "international."

According to King, solar energy offers the best way to develop cheap "bulk electricity". And, although "the scientific challenges involved in achieving this goal are great", if all G20 nations matched the amount spent on the Apollo project, it will only require 0.05 percent of their annual GDP for the next 10 years.

"This is a far more important issue than putting a man on the moon," says King, "It should attract as much attention. Failure to solve this problem will affect every nation upon earth."

As Martin Luther King once said: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." In the face of this great global challenge, "we must accept that tomorrow is already today" and "confront the fierce urgency of now."

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