Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Ticking Climate Bomb

Many americans remain unfazed by the impact of global warming on the planet, but we think they'll worry plenty when they consider its potential effect on their favorite travel destinations--a subject geotourism editor Jonathan Tourtellot tackles in "The Climate Bomb" on page 86. While scientists and politicians argue over the causes of global warming, nobody can debate its reality: The Earth's average surface temperature increased about 1 Fahrenheit in the past century; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a 3-10° rise by the end of this century. This is not a political issue. It 'S a planetary one. That's the message former Vice President Al Gore voices in his movie and book An Inconvenient Truth, both based on a riveting presentation he's been giving to packed auditoriums nationwide. In my chat with Gore, here's what he had to say about the impact of global warming.

Some Americans think the serious consequences of global warming are decades off. What's your response?
Well, that's the essence of the problem. [Climate change] is unfolding much more rapidly than scientists figured, and the range of consequences is much more serious. And in the effort to be conservative in their projections, they erred on the side of minimizing both the pace and the magnitude of the consequences. What's happening [to the planet] is an inconvenient truth, but it is the truth. Those of us who have found a way to take the blinders off and look at [the impact of global warming] are amazed by how serious it is. It's a challenge to the moral imagination.

How long do you think it will take to blunt the advance of global warming?
I really believe that ten years from now, we'll look back on this period as a time when we began to turn the corner. And we'll realize that some damage will continue to unfold in the century to come [and beyond], but that most of the damage can still be prevented. It won't be in our lifetime, but we'll be able to hand [the world] off to our kids with a clear conscience, tell them that we did the best we could, and [that] now [things] are on the right track.

For someone trying to cut carbon emission--lets jets are one of the biggest contributors--aren't you doing a huge amount of travel?
Too much. And I buy offsets for every bit of it. I live a carbon-neutral life. Both of my businesses are carbon neutral My wife and I put money into a project in India that substitutes highly efficient solar units at $300 a pop for very dirty kerosene burners, which verifiably reduces a lot of CO2. There's a micro-hydro project in Eastern Europe that does not involve darn building, but [it] directly offsets the burning of dirty coal. Now, in the short term those projects represent a compromise that allows me to feel a little better about traveling for a purpose that I think is more than legitimate. In the longer term, [they] are a model for others to save money while reducing pollution.

What do you see as the role of young people in combating global warming?
They need to claim the title of the Greenest Generation. It's up for grabs. The challenge represented by the climate process is equivalent to the challenge posed by global fascism. All analogies present difficulties, but if you look at the threat to the course of human civilization, [the impact of global warming] is a showstopper. And rising to meet this challenge can give us the ability to gain moral clarity on a lot of other issues--HIV/AIDS, more than 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa alone, chronic civil wars with child soldiers, genocide in Darfur, tens of millions dying from easily preventable diseases, grinding poverty and degradation. These are not just political problems; they're moral challenges.

What do you say to climate expert James Lovelock's prediction that by 2150 there won't be any travel?
Lovelock's a smart man, and his Gaia hypothesis, which he published in 1972, was brilliant. His new book is The Revenge of Gala and does indeed have a dark vision of what he believes is now most likely. I don't share that vision, which is impertinent [of me] because he is wiser, more experienced, more knowledgeable than I am. But I do believe that the political system is like the environment, and that predictions of how we will react that are based on past reactions may well be wrong. We have two gears--slow and lightning--and when we shift gears, we are capable of moving very quickly, I believe we're about to see the U.S. move dramatically--shift gears---and make predictions like Lovelock's not come true.

By: Bellows, Keith, National Geographic Traveler, Jul/Aug2006

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