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A Front Burner Issue
stand here on this beautiful chapel green overlooking the mighty
mother of waters looking out across fertile farmland. We should
look quick! It won't stay this way forever. There are so many
changes afoot at this period that no one knows for sure how
fast they will come, but they are already coming. Climate change
has been accelerating for the last hundred years and now at
an ever quickening pace.
and climate are two words that go hand in hand today. Since most
of the world's energy and certainly most of our energy is the result
of burning fossil fuels, we are most certainly releasing increasing
amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, creating an ever
thickening blanket that holds in the heat and warms our planet.
Almost everyone now acknowledges that this accelerated warming is
human-induced. Of course, there are natural causes of warming, volcanoes,
El Niño, but beyond those, new evidence that human-induced
effects are changing our climate has come from the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography
at the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Barnett of Scripps
said that the "fingerprint" of human influence on the warming climate
is "so bold and big that you don't have to do any fancy statistics
to beat it out of the data. It's just there." (St.Louis Post-Dispatch,
April 13, 2001, AP) And "American cars, factories, and power plants
emit 25% of the heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere making the
US the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases." (Amicus Journal,
Spring 2001, p.8)
temperatures are believed to have risen about 1.1 degrees over the
last century. According to UN: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change's most recent predictions, global temperatures will rise
2.5 to 10.4 degrees in the next 100 years. Let me repeat that. Temperatures
have risen 1.1 degrees in the last 100 years, and are predicted
to rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees in the next 100 years. That
is unnatural acceleration! Instruments became available in the 1950s
that made it possible to measure the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2)
in the atmosphere and monitor it around the world. In an article
entitled "Fiddling While the World Burns" (Amicus Journal Spring
2001) George Woodwell writes, "Suddenly data were available showing
a year by year accumulation of CO2 and powerful
evidence of the importance of the interactions between the atmosphere
and natural ecosystems: an annual cycle of rising and falling carbon
dioxide concentrations following the seasonal metabolism of northern
hemisphere forests. Woodwell writes in Amicus Journal, "my colleagues
and I could see the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere
fall every summer as forests of North America took up carbon, and
rise every winter as respiration dominated over photosynthesis and
the forests released carbon. It was clear that the forests have
a very large role in determining the composition of the atmosphere.
Such a thought was heresy at the time, but is now universally accepted."
Another idea that is gaining acceptance is that of "ecosystem services".
Wetlands purify water free of charge. Insects pollinate crops free
of charge. Forests moderate climate free of charge. (Nucleus, Winter
2000-2001 p. 12) Yet these ecosystem services are very valuable
and costly to duplicate if the natural process no longer functions
due to destruction. When we begin to value the bio-capital, we do
our economics on a different scorecard.