Meeting the challenge of climate change

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In his book, A World to Live In, Dr. George Woodwell reminds us that in February, 1965, the climate change issue was first raised in Congress when scientists warned of its dangers to the planet and human well-being. In 1976, he joined other scientists in writing a letter calling for mitigating actions to stop climate warming. In June 1988, he was one of six scientists who testified to Congress that global warming was measurable. While some corrective actions have been taken, he indicates that procrastination remains our major public policy. Delays ignore the urgency of the situation and its potentially irreversible adverse consequences.

Some argue that the issue is overblown and if it occurs we should be able to accommodate our economy to the changes. But Woodwell questions the wisdom of policies directed at accommodation as damage is already occurring and public funds are being redirected to the costly process of restoring storm-damaged areas such as those in New York, New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico.

While accommodation appears reasonable for the short term it ignores the long-term impacts of climate change. If storms, floods, droughts, and heat waves intensify as predicted by scientists involved in climate change research, the benefits of accommodation will be short lived and more costly efforts will have to be undertaken.

While not predicting the end of life on the planet he raises the specter of a collapse of our current civilization as the costs and social stress from climate disruption mount. Woodwell believes we still have time to act before the situation becomes irreversible but only if we dramatically reduce the production and use of fossil fuels immediately and support a long-term commitment to remove the climate-changing gases from the environment.

While he values the efforts to-date to restore and protect ecosystems and switch to renewable energy sources, if climate disruption continues on its projected path such efforts are unlikely to survive.

In order to meet the challenges posed by climate disruption, he calls for concerned citizens to challenge the current political orthodoxy of economic growth as essential and environmental concerns as a luxury to be dealt with when we are rich enough to afford it.

For example, extracting coal from strip mines in Wyoming to be sold to China destroys fertile grasslands that supported grazing animals for centuries; adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has enriched coal interests but destroyed a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Woodwell’s vision of a world to live in calls for corporations to adopt a closed cycle of manufacturing in which all the wastes from what they produce are tightly controlled by the company. It also calls a prime purpose of government to be conservation including actions to preserve the full range of species in natural communities as they are the operating systems of the biosphere.

Woodwell portrays civilization as facing a biophysical crisis born of corporate excesses compounded by growing human populations. He wonders how our political leaders and the public accept the right of corporations to poison the world. As an elder statesman of the environmental movement, he is well aware of the long, continuous struggle to protect civil rights, human health and that of the planet.  The growth of the local food, energy and ecological restoration efforts are seen as the seeds of an essential transition.

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