t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 13 December 2004
We Are All Tuvalu
By Kelpie Wilson
"We once again appeal to the industrialized countries, particularly those who have not
done so, to urgently ratify and fully implement the Kyoto Protocol". Tuvalu, having little or
nothing to do with the causes, cannot be left on its own to pay the price. We must all work
together. May God Bless you all. May God Bless the United Nations. TUVALU MO TE ATUA."
Tuvalu Statement at the 57th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, delivered by His Excellency Rt Hon Sir Tomasi Puapua, Governor General of Tuvalu. New York, 14 September 2002.
Tuvalu is an island nation in the Pacific. It stands a mere three meters above sea level and two years ago, on a calm, otherwise beautiful day, a tidal surge from the warming, rising Pacific Ocean flooded nearly all of the capital island of Funafuti. Suddenly, the future for Tuvalu no longer exists.
Human-caused global warming is a scientific fact that only President Bush and his administration deny. The rest of the world (with the exception of those cowboys in Australia) is in agreement that the situation is urgent. Nations have been meeting since December 6 in Buenos Aires to assess the climate change indicators and to discuss progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is the last U.N. meeting on climate change before the Kyoto convention takes effect in February 2005.
Although Bush has refused to approve ratification of Kyoto, he has still sent U.S. delegates to the meeting to present the U.S. position which is, in a nutshell, that things aren't really that serious and we need to study the situation more before we take any action and besides, technology will save us.
One of the objectives of the current conference is to determine whether climate change has reached the point of imminent danger. Delegates are discussing a slew of recent reports on climate change impacts that show that the arctic is melting rapidly, warm seas are bleaching corals, high temperatures are reducing crop yields, and melting glaciers are draining away fresh water supplies everywhere from the Andes to the Far East to the Sierra Nevadas.
A recent report on climate change in Asia painted a nightmarish scenario that has already begun to take hold, with a record 10 typhoons and tropical storms hitting Japan this year and floods of biblical proportions in South Asia. Fifty million people lost homes, health and livelihoods when two-thirds of Bangladesh, parts of Nepal, and large areas of northeastern India were flooded.
But senior U.S. climate negotiator, Harlan Watson, said there wasn't enough evidence yet to get concerned: "The bulk of the scientific opinion is we just don't know enough to be able to predict impact," he said.
Mainstream U.S. media stories on the U.N. conference quoted the usual "experts" that the Bush administration uses to deliver the less subtle aspects of its message:
"The evidence shows that the world is warming, but is not warming at a rate that is catastrophic," said John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who has ties with oil industry-funded think tanks.
"We ought to spend more money on things that people are dying from today, like a lack of sewage [facilities] and a lack of clean water," said Margo Thorning, chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation in Washington. "I'm not sure global warming is worthy of this much attention," she added.
What can explain such head-in-the-sand attitudes? Perhaps it is merely that Washington DC is not in Tuvalu. Or in the Arctic or the delta farmland of Bangladesh, or even in Florida's hurricane alley or the dust-dry western states where catastrophic water shortages loom.
Even though it insists on denying the rest of world's pain, the Bush administration still wants to be seen as the good guys. "I'm not sure why we're considered the 'bad boys,'" said Harlan Watson at a press briefing. He said the world should give the U.S. credit for spending $5 billion a year on climate change research and technology.
The centerpiece of the technology being touted is the experimental FutureGen coal gasification plant being constructed at a cost of $1 billion. Pulverized coal will be gasified and CO2 and other pollutants removed. All of this is existing technology except for the CO2 removal. The idea is to liquefy and pump the CO2 into geologic formations or depleted oil wells. This kind of carbon sequestration is technically feasible, but unproven.
Besides, FutureGen is just one experimental plant not due to come online until the end of this decade. It would be different if there were a commitment to building all new coal plants this way. Currently more than 50 percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal-fired plants. As the price of natural gas goes up, coal is booming – there are more than 100 new coal plants going through the approval process right now. None of them will be required to do anything about CO2 emissions.
America offers its technological expertise to the world, but with no commitment to invest in building alternatives. The world is not being fooled. It knows the U.S. is the bad boys – responsible for 25% of global emissions and doing nothing about it.
A reporter from the German Press Agency asked Watson: "You've been telling us all the efforts the U.S. is making concerning climate change. Can you tell us when the world can expect that GHG [Greenhouse Gas] emissions will really decrease? In which year will this be – in 2020 or when would that be? And a second question, if you allow me, what went wrong in American way of life that you have almost doubled GHG emissions in comparison to countries in Europe with the same living standard, more or less? What went wrong in the States?"
Watson's response: "Nothing went wrong in the U.S. We are blessed with economic growth."
But economic growth can take two forms. Growth can be expressed as development where lives are improved, or it can take the form of a malignancy, feeding on itself and producing large amounts of waste. Bush has said that battling climate change is not worth the loss of one American job, but an organization called the Apollo Alliance (www.apolloalliance.org) is promoting a renewable energy program that would create three million new jobs. What it would not do is prop up the oil/coal/nuclear regime that makes obscene profits for a few.
The Bush administration wants us to have faith in technology as a kind of magic that will eventually solve our energy problems and allow us to keep creating our malignant, wasteful growth. Stewart Udall writes in the LA Times this week:
"As a freshman congressman in 1955, I sat spellbound as physicist John Von Newman claimed that by 1980 nuclear power plants would produce electricity so cheap it wouldn't have to be metered. Such promises have fostered a belief that the United States will achieve "energy independence" and that science will produce easy panaceas (remember fusion and breeder reactors?)."
Faith in magic is not what's needed. What we need to do is build an ark. Greenpeace has built a 30 meter long ark in Buenos Aires to symbolize the immediate danger facing both humans and animals.
If we start looking around we will realize that we have everything we need to build the ark. We have the blueprints. Organizations like Worldwatch have been drafting plans and policies for a sustainable economy for more than 30 years now. We simply need to make rapid investments in a few areas: renewable energy and efficiency as well as reproductive health and social safety nets to reduce population growth. For a recent update, see Lester Brown's Plan B at www.earth-policy.org.
And what if we don't? What if Noah had said no to God? Even though there was plenty of gopher wood and half of his family was ready to get started. He and his family and all those animals would have drowned.
What lets a leader like G.W. Bush say no to an offer of salvation like Kyoto? Simple. It is denial. There is no flood coming.
For all the information we have about climate change and its impacts, we are still capable of denial. Ed Ayres, editor of World Watch Magazine and author of the book "God's Last Offer," says that denial is the most perplexing problem facing us. "Why we don't believe that [we're putting the whole world at risk], when our leading scientists do may be the most important question science faces today" Denial is the flipside of sentience, and sentience is what has to separate us from the ants that sink with the log."
No one can deny that Tuvalu needs an ark. And every reputable scientist studying the problem of climate change agrees that the whole world needs an ark as well, that we must take action, beginning with something like the Kyoto agreement and rapidly moving on to stronger measures. But Bush doesn't listen to scientists.
Maybe someone should tell him that it is God's last offer.
Kelpie Wilson is the t r u t h o u t environment editor. A veteran forest protection
activist and mechanical engineer, she writes from her solar-powered cabin in the
Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon.