It’s been more than a century since the first scientist theorized that carbon emissions and other gases could warm the Earth. By the 1980s many of the most prominent climate scientists were issuing similar warnings based on emerging data. The problem was brought into US popular literature by Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, published in the early 1990s while he was a sitting senator (and about which he was bizarrely silent as Vice President) . Numerous studies followed including a series of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that brought growing certainty to the phenomenon. Yet very little in the way of response has followed.
In the last few months former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan speaking on behalf of The Elders—a society of globally respected statesmen founded by Nelson Mandela—wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post: “Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. It threatens the well-being of hundreds of millions of people today and many billions more in the future. It undermines the human rights to food, water, health and shelter – causes for which we, as Elders, have fought all our lives.No one and no country will escape the impact of climate change.”
In Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry, issued an unusually stark warning for a US public official describing climate change as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science just issued a new report What We Know, noting that “…we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”
In a recent perceptive blog Juan Cole (http://www.juancole.com/2014/03/unpredictable-irreversible-damaging.html) notes the similarities to the history of tobacco warnings. The tobacco industry strategy was always to create doubt as to the certainty of the findings of health risk, thus giving smokers an excuse for inaction. And so we see it with the coal and oil industries that promote doubt about that which there is virtually none, leading to decades of destructive inaction.