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Dean Hulse, Fargo, Published August 04 2012

Climate change is a crisis

World leaders agreed at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference that the global temperature increase should remain below 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 Fahrenheit). Writing recently in Rolling Stone, author Bill McKibben reminds readers that some newspaper headlines questioned whether the so-called Copenhagen Accord represented the Munich of our times – in mocking reference to the September 1938 agreement allowing Hitler’s Germany to annex portions of Czechoslovakia. In a word, the Copenhagen and Munich conferences appear to have this feature in common: appeasement.

Even though a lack of will has stifled debate about whether global warming of 2 degrees Celsius is too much, further action remains necessary. In his Rolling Stone article, McKibben provides us with a clear-eyed mathematical account of how grave the situation is.

The best scientific studies estimate that 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide is the maximum amount humans can emit into the atmosphere by midcentury. Here’s the unfortunate reality, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative (www.carbontracker.org/): the world’s fossil-fuel sector has proved coal and oil and gas reserves “worth” 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ll point out that much of the world’s fossil fuel wealth is the property of corporations – created from paper, benefitting from the rights of personhood but possessing no shoulders with which to bear responsibility.

What can we do? I’ll focus first on politicians. Generally, they can stop parroting bromides aimed at pacifying financial contributors, many of whom hail from the fossil fuel industry, with its public relations machinery – read, “clean” coal.

A specific example: In the North Dakota race for U.S. Senate, one of the contenders recently espoused a preference for incentives instead of mandates when dealing with challenges such as global warming.

In his latest book, “The Essentials of Economic Sustainability,” economist John Ikerd observes, “Both society and nature are living systems. At some point, damage to living systems becomes irreversible – sustainability is then no longer possible. Societies clearly cannot wait for economic incentives to motivate the changes necessary to ensure economic sustainability.”

It requires political will to face up to global warming and climate change. Vote for candidates who are willing to admit we have a problem.

Beyond voting for responsible candidates, we need to begin living lives that are utterly human. In discussing the uniqueness of human intentionality, Ikerd writes: “(Humans) have the capacity to make purely ethical or moral decisions. Humans also have the mental capacity to anticipate the consequences of actions they have never observed or experienced.”

Climate change represents a global (natural) crisis. Climate change also represents a human (social) crisis, one only flesh-and-blood humans with backbones can solve.


Hulse is a longtime Fargo resident who still owns the central North Dakota family farm where he grew up.