For all the pomp surrounding the Copenhagen talks of December 2009, I can’t help feeling that the entire event was a series of photo opportunities and empty promises. World leaders met to confront the details of climate change and promise reductions in emissions for a more sustainable future. Yet, in the end, in order to achieve such goals, each leader must convince his or her country that such reductions are crucial. The U.S. has yet to get past this hurdle.

The efforts of numerous green organizations around the country, including our own Grassroots, have been tremendous in educating the public about global warming. But by and large, Americans continue to misunderstand the term and remain skeptical, viewing it as another scam to rob them of tax dollars. I cannot count the number of times during winter break that I overhead someone comment upon the record-breaking’ Nor’easter (which dumped about two feet of snow across the Eastern Seaboard) by scoffing at the concept of global warming. Naturally, if you suddenly have unheard-of amounts of snow in your frontyard, this is proof that the average temperature of the entire earth is freezing rather than heating up. Perfect logic.

In recent weeks, the battles have been as much over the terminology as what to do about the climate change problem. Congressmen and women are worried that the term ‘global warming’ is too inflammatory, and rather than focusing on the details of emission caps, they fret about what language will anger their voters the least. Cap-and-trade legislation has stalled in the Senate, and even if this legislation passes, it only affects the building of new plants and has little effect on the existing ones. At Copenhagen, Obama promised a 17 percent reduction in emissions, and while congressmen and women are wrangling over this promise, this number is already severely reduced from that which is pushed by scientists. Instead of focusing on what’s best for the country or for the world, it’s come down to merely a squabble over empty words.

Perhaps Congress is right – ‘global warming’ is inflammatory. And perhaps those who doubt the reality because of the current cold weather are also correct, in a sense. Global warming refers to the average temperature of the entire world rising’ – this average factors in everything from the heat of Death Valley to the cold of the Antarctic. Many understand global warming to imply a gradual process of uniform heating. The earth is not a convection oven, and the warming will be inconsistent and lead to extremes – both hot and cold – in weather and temperature across the globe. The increase in average temperature and rising sea levels will cause water currents to change or even reverse, which in turn affects wind currents and determines exactly what type of weather we experience. Global warming is a misleading term – the process might be more accurately defined as extreme climate change.

Rather than wasting precious time debating terminology, the U.S. as a nation needs to accept the truth of climate change. The facts are uncontroversial. The earth is getting hotter. How much hotter, due to what causes and how much because of human action – these are all questions worthy of research and debate. However, given current trends, our present lifestyles will be impossible within a few decades. Extremes are getting more noticeable – such as an increased frequency of natural disasters, heat waves and record-breaking snowstorms.

As a nation, let’s focus our energies on addressing what we can do about extreme climate change and find ways to stall the process or at least prepare to adapt to a new and more extreme (but not always hotter) environment.

Gabster is a
Take Five Scholar.

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