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The Climate Elephant in the Atmosphere (and in the Room)

NASA’s climate change model. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are fluctuating year round in the atmosphere. They are shown red in color. Courtesy Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA, March 25, 2021.

Climate is a complex biological and chemical interaction between the Earth and the Sun. The Earth is the only star, which is the only live planet in the known universe. It keeps a safe distance from the fiery Sun, so that life is its distinguishing characteristic.

The  Sun bathes the Earth with life-giving light and energy. In addition, in the past billions of years, these solar blessings have been giving rise to temperature, winds, storms, oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, drinking water, forests, deserts, animals, plants and flowers.

We also use weather to understand the phenomena of rain, cold, hot and other changes in the atmosphere (sphere of steam). NASA defines weather and climate in terms of time: “Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

Time defines the Cosmos with the Sun at its center.

The Sun, which the ancient Greeks called Helios and worshipped as a god for millennia, gives us, humans, light and life. In its absence, the Earth would have been a frozen stone.

Human activities

NASA admitted last month that “humans are throwing Earth’s energy budget off balance.” This means climate change. Experts in the sciences of the Earth and its relations to the Sun – climatologists — have been warning the leaders of the countries of the world that human activities are destabilizing life on this billion-years-old planet.

Humans are threatening all life on Earth, especially wildlife. About a million species of plants and animals have been brought to the precipice of extinction. David Attenborough, the distinguished British zoologist, is warning that wildlife extinction and continuing the destruction of biodiversity are “threatening food and water security, undermining our ability to control our climate and even putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases.”

In addition to the savaging of wildlife, other human activities are intensifying the ferocity of the crisis of crises, climate change.

Fossil fuels

Among those attacks against our home, the Earth, the burning of fossil fuels for a century and a half is the most lasting and pernicious. It’s also the glue that allows all other kinds of violence against wildlife and our health.

The industrialization of agriculture would have been inconceivable without petroleum and petrochemicals. This factory farming is a major contributor to making the Earth inhospitable to life.

Changing the planet

Moreover, deforestation, overfishing, and massive and ceaseless pollution from the fossil fuel powered industry, give climate change its tsunami destructive power.

The results of these dangerous industries and policies have been changing the planet from a hospitable and beautiful home for a myriad forms of life to a planet on a trajectory of rising unhealthy temperatures in the waters and land; ecosystems on the verge of collapse; extinction crises for insects, birds, and other wild animals and plants; and clear signs of danger for the health of people and wildlife.

So, perversely, climate has left the rarefied laboratories of weather men and climatologists and, sporadically, occupies headlines on TV stations and newspapers.

However, the politics and economics of the world have yet to register the threats of climate change or, more importantly, begin to phase out fossil fuels, which are at the root of species extinction and higher global temperatures.

US climate policy?

I remember the Jimmy Carter administration in the late 1970s taking baby steps to understand climate change. It funded a study that predicted rising temperatures. But the succeeding Republican administrations, including the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, ignored science and promoted business as usual, including the continuation of subsidies to the fossil fuels industry.

The Republican president Trump, 2017-2021, was so tied to destructive, selfish, and corrupt practices, he even denied the existence of climate change. He pushed America to the league of super polluters and outlaws of the barely existing international order admitting that something had to be done about climate change.

Biden can or should

The new president, Joe Biden, promised to face the climate monster head on. But in the brief tenure of his administration, I have yet to detect a determined effort to fight back to check the onslaught coming from business as usual and their climate change product.

I realize Biden is overwhelmed with the crippling pandemic, the deep racial divisions and conflicts of the country, and the effort of the Republicans to shut down minority voting in the next Congressional and presidential contests.

I give him credit for his sense of justice. However, the climate monster humans have unleashed cares less for justice or any other virtue. What matters is removing the causes for global warming.

In the Biden administration 2.3 trillion dollars infrastructure proposal, there’s money for mass transitand charging stations for electric cars. That’s wonderful, but insufficient for fighting the climate giant in the Oval Office – and all over America. Yet the Republicans in Congress are planning to oppose it.

What has to happen is a revolution in thinking, legislating, and acting. Climate change is much more than WWII.

Biden must raise huge amounts of money and use that money to build a solar and wind infrastructure that would put out of business fossil fuel companies, transform agriculture to the rules of agroecology and small-scale farms, and abolish the gasoline-powered transport for electric cars, trains, bullet trains, and trams going everywhere in the cities.

How do you get those tons of money? Start by demanding the return of all those billions Republicans gifted (in the guise of tax cuts) to the rich and corporations. Increase substantially the taxes of corporations and affluent Americans. And ask the billionaires of Democratic persuasion to create a fund for climate change. They can motivate the rest of the billionaires to sacrifice some of their large fortunes for the good of America and the world.

Biden must then appeal to the leaders of the world to put the brakes on conventional development responsible for the plight of the world. Start the conversation with talks with Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, the European Union, and India.

These five partners (US, Russia, China, EU and India) are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet. If these Climate Five reach a consensus, the rest of the world has to go along.

Nature is life

These modest proposals would create millions of well-paying jobs and a more peaceful and livable world. Political leaders and environmentalists would find it necessary to educate the people that nature is life itself.

In fact, appreciation and respect and love for nature deserves the highest priority in education and policy everywhere in the planet. That, one day, might become a world philosophy for survival and a new civilization.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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