The climate wars: searching for answers (or at least the right questions)

The climate change debate has intensified again with the conclusion of the Durban Round as the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. As in all things that mix science and the hard facts of life, the reality of politics, economic self-interest, and the discomfort of personal change and sacrifice lead to divergence between where we should be going and where we are, in fact, headed.

Voices of dire concern are legion and they range from apocalyptic to the most hard-headed perspectives of political realism. Not quite as numerous but certainly as vociferous are the skeptics with their references to flawed or inconclusive science, or views that the cost of change outweighs the environmental benefits. What is the middle ground? A growing body of research attempts to assess the reality and suggest mitigations that destroy neither the planet nor the economic foundations that modern survival demands. Some of these titles may be useful in advancing the discussion.

In Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer raises the alarm: he suggests that environmental degradation will force mass movements of displaced populations, forcing armed conflict and future wars–often masked by ethnic rivalaries. Dyer believes that climate change is the root cause of the Darfur crisis.

James C. Hansen, lead scientist of the original Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, outlines a cautionary perspective in Storms of my Grandchildren.

The entire body of work of Bill McKibben reflects the most impassioned view from the environmental side.

In contrast, the skeptics include Bjorn Lomborg’s Cool It and Patrick Michael’s Climate of Extremes.

In the middle are voices that demostrate the cost of the impending climate change crisis, such as Nicholas Stern in The Economics of Climate Change, Andrew Dessler’s dispassioned but thorough The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change, and James G. Speth’s The Bridge at the Edge of the World.

There are voices of reasoned and even optimistic action such as Auden Schendler’s Getting Green Done, Charles Derber’s Greed to Green, and William Nordhaus’ A Question of Balance

Although there is plenty of debate, there also seem to be plenty of real solutions–maybe some ideas for which it is truly worth fighting.


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