Stop the Global Warming Train


I’m grateful this morning for the weather.  There’s been plenty of rain in the past few days.  The sun is out now, along with the clouds, and there’s a nice, cool breeze.  Mmmmm.  Lovely.

I’m grateful that we have weather at all.  I’m grateful for the exquisitely balanced climate system, which has evolved along with life as we know it over billions of years.  I’m also deeply concerned about the disruption of the climate system and the warming of the earth caused by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

This is no hoax, even though 240 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted that it is.  How can they believe this?  To whom are they listening?  Not to the majority of scientists, for whom  the debate is over about the two key facts about climate change:  1) Global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and 2) This trend is caused primarily by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases.  Go to The Consensus Project to find out more.

There is debate and skepticism among scientists about other issues related to climate change, such as climate sensitivity, projected rates of warming and other effects of continued greenhouse gas emissions, analysis of factors leading to short-term fluctuations (such as “flattening”) of the warming effect, what if any action should be taken (nuclear power, fracking, renewables, etc.)  After all, science is a skeptical discipline.  But there is a strong scientific consensus about the above key facts.

Still, the Global Warming Train continues to pick up speed, with CO2 emissions reaching 400 parts per million (ppm) this month.  Those who are driving the train, the policy makers (such as the House members), must not be listening primarily to scientists.  They must be listening to someone else.

In last night’s presentation on climate change, we looked at the controversy surrounding climate change.  For the most part it is a political and ideological controversy.  Climate change skeptics downplay, deny, or dismiss the key facts of global warming based on politics, economics, or ideology.  The popular media in the United States treats the key scientific facts as debatable.  The fossil fuels industry and their supporters, free-market think tanks (such as the Heartland Institute), and anti-science religious associations (such as the Cornwall Alliance) actively work to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming.  No wonder people are confused and feel powerless to take action.

This raises the question of who is actually driving the Global Warming Train.  Policy makers in government have special responsibility.  But when corporations write laws, create industry-funded “studies,” and dominate the media and the political process, they are also driving the train.  Furthermore, policy decisions are made in the context of the global system of unrestrained free-market capitalism, which is based on the values of greed and profit.  Those who are driving the train have a vested interest in keeping the current system in place.

Many people are already getting run over by the Global Warming Train, especially those who live in poor nations that are especially sensitive to climate change, along with poor people everywhere.  Some of us are passengers.  We pay our fare and help support the system by buying gas for our cars, heating our homes, taking airplanes.  Some of us may feel guilty for doing so.  Some of us try to live simply and reduce our carbon footprint, but still the train is accelerating.  What can we do?

Last night we began to answer that question by looking at what we could do as a society if it were politically possible.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels and invest in conservation and renewable energy.
  2. Stop subsidizing agribusiness and invest in supporting small organic farms.
  3. Stop using the U.S. military to preserve access to oil.
  4. Engage in good-faith negotiations toward an international treaty with binding limits of greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Employ a progressive “fee and dividend” approach to lowering emissions.

What we can do and what we must do is change what is possible.  The rest of the presentation covered some of the things that people are doing to bring about positive systemic change.  “Another world is possible” has become the slogan of the global justice movement.

Humanity is captive, on a train towards irreversible, catastrophic climate change.  Those who are driving are debating about how fast we are going, what’s up ahead, what would happen if we slowed down, why we should (or should not) keep going.  They are making policy decisions that affect all of humanity, other species, and future generations.

Meanwhile the train is picking up speed.  We see the signposts as we go by:  350 ppm, 400 ppm.  At what point do we decide to take responsibility for ourselves and our fellow passengers?  At what point do we decide to stop the Global Warming Train?

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