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Wednesday, December 12, 2007 Previous | Next

From Oil Wars to Water Wars

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The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this week, in Oslo, Norway. Al Gore shared the prize with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents more than 2,500 scientists from 130 countries. The solemn ceremony took place as the United States is blocking meaningful progress at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, and the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have derailed the energy bill passed by the House of Representatives, which would have accelerated the adoption of renewable energy sources at the expense of big-oil and coal corporations.

Gore set the stage: “So, today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

“As a result, the Earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong. We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.”

He went on: “Last Sept. 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the north polar ice cap is ‘falling off a cliff.’ One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as seven years. Seven years from now.”

How will climate-change skeptics explain that one? (Already, big business is celebrating the break up of the polar ice cap, as a northern sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific is opening, creating a cheaper route for more needless shipping.) It is hard to imagine the north pole, the storied, frozen expanse of ice and snow, completely gone in just a few years. Lost as well will be the vast store of archeological data trapped in the ice: thousands of years of the Earth’s climate history are told in the layers of ice that descend for miles there. Scientists are just now learning how to read and interpret the history. The great meltdown will surely have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem in the north, with species like the polar bear already edging toward extinction.

Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist, accepted for the IPCC. He is a careful scientist with the political finesse to chair the work of the IPCC despite the enduring antagonism of the United States. He pointed to the disproportionate effect of climate change on the world’s poor:

“[T]he impacts of climate change on some of the poorest and the most vulnerable communities in the world could prove extremely unsettling ... in terms of: access to clean water, access to sufficient food, stable health conditions, ecosystem resources, security of settlements.”

Pachauri predicts water wars and mass migrations. “Migration, usually temporary and often from rural to urban areas, is a common response to calamities such as floods and famines.”

Gore invoked the memory of Mohandas Gandhi, saying he “awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called ‘Satyagraha’—or ‘truth force.’ In every land, the truth—once known—has the power to set us free.” Satyagraha, as Gandhi practiced it, is the disciplined application of nonviolent resistance, which is exactly what Ted Glick is doing back in Washington, D.C.

Glick heads up the Climate Emergency Council. On his 99th day of a liquids-only fast, the day after the Nobel ceremony, he joined with 20 people in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a sit-in. The Senate Republicans are now blocking a federal energy bill that would create funding for the development of renewable energy sources in the U.S., while stripping away billions of dollars worth of tax breaks for big oil and coal.

Glick told me: “We have to be willing to go to jail. Al Gore, himself, a couple of months ago talked about how young people need to be sitting in in front of the coal plants to prevent coal plants from being built. That’s true. Young people need to be doing that. Middle-age people need to be doing that. Older people need to be doing that. And Al Gore needs to be doing that. Let’s get serious about this crisis.”

While Glick was sitting in, news reports began to circulate about Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani’s law firm’s lobbying activities against the energy bill. According to Bloomberg news, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP was hired by energy giant Southern Co. to defeat the bill. At a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser last August, addressing members of the coal industry, Giuliani said, “We have to increase our reliance on coal.”

As Giuliani’s coffers get fat with money from big oil, gas and coal, Glick has lost more than 40 pounds, and the Earth’s temperature continues to rise.


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