Don’t Talk to Me About Melting IceCaps

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August 10, 2008

Flight from London to San Francisco

A few minutes ago I happened to glance out the airplane window and was startled to realize that below me was an image I had only previously seen printed next to disturbing newspaper articles about global warming. I’m on the flight from London to San Francisco and we are currently flying over the now infamous melting icecaps of Greenland.

It’s funny how little I care about icecaps. Melting icecaps don’t make me want to stop driving my car or flying on airplanes or even give a second thought to how much energy I consume. To a lesser extent, stories of drowning polar bears have the same effect on me. Species are always going extinct and even if wild polar bears cease to exist I can always get my white fuzzy bear fix at the local zoo.

However, were you to talk to me differently, I might take my eyes of the compelling vision of an endless road of unlimited natural resources and lift my foot off the gas pedal long enough to hear what you had to say. Speak to me of floods, fires and other disasters that although “natural,” are seemingly unnatural both in their force and in their increasingly frequent occurrence. Tell me that these events are disproportionately affecting poor populations, the people that bear the least responsibility for their occurrence.

Speak to me of the effect of changing weather patterns on developing countries, the majority of which are still agriculturally based. Tell me that 75,000 Ethiopian children are on the brink of starvation because the rains came in June instead of in January. Tell me that rising fuel costs coupled with bad harvests have contributed to the 26.6 % inflation in Kenya that has made buying food difficult for many of my Kenyan friends.

Tell me that struggling economies are not just confined Eastern Africa, the entire world is reeling from the surge in oil and food prices. Tell me that demand for both items has increased as will only continue to increase.

Help me to understand the policies of my own country. Explain to me why American farmland is increasingly being used to produce fuel rather than food, a process that is not only inefficient but is also driving up agricultural commodity prices worldwide. Tell me why a country with an economy that depends on the supply of cheap energy, has invested such little money in the search for alternative sources of energy or techniques to improve energy efficiency. Tell me that as an American, I consume more than almost anyone else in the world.

Then tell me that stopping rapid climate change is not a radicalist call for a return to the Stone-Age and nor will it entirely destroy economies. Tell me that studies have been done showing that efforts to mitigate climate change are in fact cost-effective if you compare the costs that the world will incur if nothing is done.

Tell me the exciting potential that a global carbon credit trading system could have for developing countries if followed along the lines laid out in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development mechanism. Tell me that Western countries need to stop the addictive food aid that has made countries (African especially) rely on hand-outs and instead promote sources of cheap, locally available, renewable energy (such as biogas) that will help both alleviate the havoc skyrocketing energy prices are having on developing countries and will help the countries that are facing the effects without having contributed much to the problem.

Talk to me like that and I will listen.