Today both New York Times and Washington Post carried front page stories about some troubling developments on global warming. Troubling, because firstly, there is increasing scientific evidence on the human element in the phenomenon of global warming, and secondly, we have yet another instance of callous US (by far, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) behavior on this issue.
While Washington Post reported prominently on the current thinking among scientists on global warming, New York Times had a detailed story on how political appointees at NASA tried to restrict a respected expert on global warming James E. Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, from expressing his findings in public.
The essence of the Post story is:
There are three things that scientists describe as worrisome and potentially imminent, although there is some disagreement on the timing. They are:
1. widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; and,
2. dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and,
3. within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.
They go on to cite detailed sources for these conclusions.
The Times story is a chilling reminder of the lengths to which the current US administration will go to subdue public consciousness on global warming. James Hansen is a top NASA climate scientist who has been speaking about the perils of global warming for a long time now. But he says that in the last couple of years there is increasing pressure on him to tone down his language. This pressure reached unsavory proportions last December.
The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."
In December, he also released data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century.
After these actions, political appointees at NASA decided to do something. He was warned of "dire consequences" if such statements continued. In typical methodology of such political machinations, all the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.
There is near unanimity in the scientific community about the dangers global warming and the desperate need for us to at least cut down on global CO2 emissions. It is common sense that the country which is most responsible for that emission take the lead in this effort. It is not merely a question of decency. Americans have lived a particular life style for more than hundred years and experienced all the benefits associated with it. Now when the time has come to start taking responsibility for that, they start demanding that developing nations should assume equal responsibility. At the end of the day, Chinese or Indians have just started enjoying the benefits of this (irresponsible) life style, after many decades of nature-friendly life style. while Americans have been doing it for at least a hundred years. It is a pity that, in stead of responsible leadership from the biggest culprit, we get only increasingly loud assertions that the American way of life is not negotiable.