U.S. should lead the way to halt climate change

The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald on Friday, Dec. 2:

The U.N. Climate Summit opened over the weekend in Durban, South Africa, amid still more evidence of dangerous changes in extreme weather patterns. The drought in Texas and across the southern United States, along with record flooding in parts of Africa and Asia, are signs of an ominous trend supported by recent reports based on scientific data:

-Thirteen of the world’s hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 15 years. As if to put an exclamation point on this alarming pattern, this year was also the hottest ever to coincide with the cooling effect of La Nina, the weather system in the Pacific that is supposed to reduce global temperatures.

-This year was the 10th hottest year since 1850, when accurate measurements began. This phenomenon brought higher temperatures all over the globe. In northern Russia, October temperatures were 7 degrees above average. Next-door Finland had the hottest summer in 200 years.

-Closer to home, sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its second lowest surface area after 2007, with measurements at record levels of thin ice. In the coming weeks, another scientific report is expected to declare that the risk posed by undeniably increasing levels in the ocean raises the prospect of destroying low-lying coastal areas of the Northern Hemisphere – including parts of Florida.

These findings were disclosed by credible, science-based groups, including the World Meteorological Organization and Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in separate but complementary reports that support what most climate experts have been saying for decades: The world is warming, and the warming is due to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can be attributed to human activity and exploding carbon levels.

Climate skeptics will doubtless brush this aside as the work of forces that want to impose government controls on carbon emissions and every conceivable human activity that affects the air we breathe, but it’s harder to brush aside the conversion of one of the most prominent skeptics in academia, Richard Muller, a respected physicist at UC-Berkeley.

“Global warming is real,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal last October. Mr. Muller said the findings of his own research team confirmed the accepted conventional wisdom that he and others once scorned as the product of “activist frenzy” within the scientific community.

All of this lends a new level of urgency to the meeting in Durban, where politics and ideology threaten to obstruct progress toward concerted action by the world community to halt, or even reverse, the global warming trend. Organizations like the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists say the Obama administration has failed to live up to the president’s promise as a candidate to lead the way to decisive action on climate change.

Specifically, the administration has been dragging its feet on the issue of what to do with the Kyoto Treaty – which focuses on emission reductions – when it expires next year. Instead of holding off until 2020 before any new treaty can take effect, as the administration has proposed, it should work to achieve consensus to strengthen the treaty before any more damage is done.

The point is rapidly approaching, scientists say, when global warming becomes irreversible. Action should be taken today to save the world of a devastating tomorrow.

These short summaries are showing up everywhere. Is anyone reading them?

I can’t tell.