This week global warming is again in headlines. A White House aide resigned after charges that he changed federal science reports to downplay the effects of greenhouse gasses to global warming. The US contribution of CO2 was updated: each US citizen’s share of the national total CO2 releases is about 6 tons/year. For comparison, each citizen of India accounts for about 0.3 ton/year.
Dire forecasts are being made. In "The Long Emergency "James Howard Kunstler predicts that both American society and the global consumer economy will crash as cheap energy disappears, and that it is already too late to mend our ways: "It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life – ... central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense -- you name it." (read http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0413_28.htm )
Jared Diamond, in "Collapse", postulates four reasons why societies or civilizations collapse: environmental destruction, climate change, increase in hostilities, and decrease in friendly relations. And he adds a fifth, overarching reason: failing to address any of the first four.
Nuclear power is no panacea for the energy-carbon crunch – it’s neither clean nor cheap, and has uncertain long-term consequences. It could help tide us over until we can cut consumption, increase efficiency, develop alternatives, and reduce transmission & transportation costs. It could buy us time to tune human fertility, human politics & economics, and personal lifestyles & habits to more renewable, sustainable, equitable and humane energy systems.
But right now we need to recognize that we can’t fuel our life-styles or cool the planet with faith-based science, marketing ideologies, or the coercion of war, terror and torture. The crunch between scarce energy and excessive CO2 will finally have to be dealt with by the crunched – us.
We need a new revolution – not an armed, adversarial revolution, but a peaceable revolution in what we buy, how we use energy, how we distribute and assess information, and in how we allow ourselves to be governed.
Needless to say, I agree. But do we have the will as a people to meet this challenge? So far, there's no real evidence that we do.