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Climate 2007- Trying to Make Sense of the Year of Records

At the beginning of 2008, we're chugging out more CO2 emissions than ever; the world climate system has started to tip over; and it is on record that the USA torpedoed Bali -- a policy decision with historic consequences, which isolates America, and which means that U.S. citizens are now bearing a huge burden of guilt.

Americans were outed at Bali as the planetary perpetrators of climate change. Some commentators, such as Jeffrey Sachs, want to look at the bright side: it could be worse, they say; at least the U.S. is now talking. But the price paid for talking is a delay of action. And since the fourth assessment report of the IPCC suggests a rapidly shrinking window of opportunity for change, Sachs' optimism is not persuasive. As the editors of NYT put it, " from the United States the delegates got nothing, except a promise to participate in the forthcoming negotiations." This is old news (12/17), and "forthcoming negotiations" were supposed to refer not only to Copenhagen 2009 but also to Honolulu 2008. But the internationally reported invitation by the Climate-Changer in Chief is not on government sites anymore and appears to have been quietly withdrawn. The corporate media piously respect the federal silence. Isn't it interesting that the Honolulu cancellation, of a meeting slated for 1/30-31/08, hasn't made any headlines? There never was Honolulu 2008.

Other commentators, such as Paul Krugman, stress that "China is already, by some estimates, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases". To the extent this can be construed as an attempt at shifting blame, it doesn't cut it. World population is close to 6.7 billion; 1.4 billion or 1/5th live in China; 300 million or 1/23rd live in the USA. China's emissions are approaching those of America, but they're produced by 20 percent of the planet's people, as compared to a similar amount produced by 4.4 percent. The average American produces five times the emissions of the average Chinese. Far more than any other nation in the world, the USA is responsible for the planet's fever. U.S. resistance to change will be America's shame. Federal policy imperils the wellbeing and existence of peoples worldwide. These are perfectly avoidable and completely unnecessary liabilities -- and they're crimes against humanity in the making. Thus we're running the moral risk that future generations will look back at the republican USA 2000-2008 with the same disdain and revulsion felt by normal people who look back at Nazi Germany 1933-1945. Am I exaggerating? Why don't you wait and see. Meanwhile, here in Florida, in Tampa, on the campus of the University of South Florida, nothing is being done. Commuters commute. SUVs abound. More parking lots are under construction. Mass transit remains a pipe dream. There are no wind farms at the coast; there's no solar energy in the Sunshine State; it's business as usual. This is really amazing. The clock's ticking, and the ownership society doesn't know that its time is pretty much up.

AP 12/29 summed up the year of weather records:

January was the warmest first month on record worldwide--1.53 degrees above normal. It was also the first time ... that the globe's average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year. And as 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere. U.S. weather stations broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records. (...) Worst of all ... the Arctic ... dramatically warmed in 2007, shattering records for the amount of melting ice. (...) Through the first 10 months, it was the hottest year recorded on land and the third hottest when ocean temperatures are included. ... At U.S. weather stations, more than 8,000 new yeat records were set or tied for specific August [2007] dates ... more than 100 all-time temperature records were tied or broken--regardless of the date--either for the highest reading or the warmest low temperature at night. (...) Sea ice melted not just to record levels, but far beyond the previous melt record. (...) Meteorologists have chronicled strange weather years for more than a decade, but nothing like 2007.

Here are the monthly records archived by NOAA. Here's the list of records about 2007's Arctic tipping point by NSIDC. The World Meteorological Organization states that 2007 was the warmest year on record in Russia (posted 1/2/08) and issued a news release that the decade 1998-2007 is the warmest on record (# 805, 12/13/07). Munich Re counted more natural catastrophes in 2007 than ever before. The biggest casualty of climate change is expected to be agricultural productivity, as is becoming visible now. 2007 was a bad weather year; food costs are soaring; world food stocks are dwindling, and the predictions are now playing out.

Last month, Canada and Russia made news at Bali for briefly balking at mandatory emissions reductions. Their reluctance was somewhat understandable, since these are countries that may benefit from climate change at least a bit (or so their politicians think, happily ignoring the fact that collapsing infrastructures at their southern borders are going to be bad news all around). But that the United States sabotaged Bali and thus worsened its own national prospects at long-term prosperity -- that's just plain weird. You'd think that individual self-interest would motivate social evolution. But in America, the South, and in Florida, it doesn't. These are places that have everything to lose and nothing to gain from climate change, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see this. You'd think that Florida, the South, and the U.S. would not just rise to the occasion, but jump at the chance to lead the transformation toward a post-carbon, post-consumerist, and deep ecological world. But no. The Enlightenment may have informed the foundation of the Republic, but in today, enlightenment doesn't seem to be an American concept anymore. This is so stupid, it's frightening. And on this note, we slide into the New Year, with crazier weather to come.

Martin Schönfeld

Martin Schönfeld

Martin Schönfeld teaches Philosophy at the University of South Florida. He writes on the American disenlightenment and edits the Climate Philosophy Newsletter. His most recent book is "Plan B: Global Climate Ethics—Planetary Crisis and Philosophical Alternatives" (2015).

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