Cross-posted at Daily Kos
As we speak, media moguls around the world are releasing lists of the top stories of the year gone by. But I guarantee that most will miss or underplay the one story of greatest consequence to our lives and those of our descendants – in 2011, Mother Nature demonstrated that climate change is real and dangerous, while leaders around the world did absolutely nothing in response.
2011 was a year full of big headlines, from bin Laden’s capture to the earthquake in Japan to the Gabby Giffords shooting. But global warming has the capacity to kill and disrupt the lives of more people than any terrorist leader, crazed gunman or even tsunami can ever dream to. (Take for example the European heat wave of 2003 that killed over 40,000 people.)
As the PBS News Hour reports:
Nationwide, more than 6,000 heat records have been broken this year. On average, the U.S. has three or four events every year that are considered major natural disasters. But, this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration counted at least a dozen such events. Based on reports to date, damages are expected to exceed $52 billion.
Remarkably, at a time when every politician is railing about reducing the national debt, almost none of them are talking about the tens of billions of dollars it is costing us to continue to deny climate change. And we’ve only just begun to climb the steep wall leading to catastrophe. The problem is that decades of failure to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions means that temperatures, and the extreme weather they cause, will only increase in the future.
The 20th Century saw an increase of more than 0.6 degrees Celsius in global average temperatures. The IPCC projects warming during this century of 1.8 to 4.0 °C over pre-industrial levels. The problem is that warming even at the level of 2°C will lead to catastrophic consequences, including sea level rise putting major cities and some countries underwater, enormous species die-offs, and weather events that will make 2011’s tornados and heat waves look like minor occurrences.
Even worse, according to a recent peer-reviewed scientific paper, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.” (As Rick Perry would say: Oops.)
Part of the problem is that extreme global warming will lead to so-called “feedback” effects that release even greater greenhouse gases, like the melting of the permafrost releasing enormous quantities of methane from the soil — and thereby accelerating warming out of control.
Yet while the Earth burns, our so-called leaders continue to fiddle. This year’s World Climate Summit in Durban, like previous ones, led nowhere, producing no good news other than the fact that the process didn’t completely collapse. The US, China and India passed the buck to each other, none of them accepting the responsibility to lead other nations forward on this issue. And then Canada, a country formerly known for forward-thinking progressivism, pulled out of Kyoto altogether, putting dirty tar sands development ahead of all the world’s kids.
The biggest story of 2011 was that we refused to acknowledge or do anything about the enormous threat staring us in the face. And the message for 2012 is that we can’t trust our leaders to lead on this issue – it’s time for ordinary citizens like me and you to take matters into our own hands and force our elected officials and other leaders – business, social, religious, you name it – to stand up and take concrete action to confront global warming. The big news is the story we continue to deny – to our detriment.