Administration gambling with global warming

This weekend, the New York Times ran an article with the headline “Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him.” It was one of many incidents that are symptomatic of a quite daring bet taken by the U.S. government founded on its seemingly steadfast belief that global warming does not exist.

The New York Times reported that this particular incident involved scientist James E. Hansen, longtime director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen claims he had been carefully watched and put under pressure since he had openly lobbied for a restriction on greenhouse gas emissions at a conference last month.

In Hansen’s own words, “they feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public.”

The story was quickly picked up by Reuters and has since then caused quite a commotion, something I find rather puzzling since this is hardly a new tactic. If there is one thing the Bush administration is efficient at more than any other, it is denying any other viewpoint than its own, no matter how obvious its shortcoming may be. If this administration put as much effort into all its duties as does into keeping up its appearance, the country would be in a much better shape.

In June 2003, I wrote a column about how the Bush administration edited a report to be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. Back then the EPA claimed, in various passages of the report, that global warming is a real-life problem that should be addressed. The Bush administration simply edited these paragraphs, or cut entire sentences – like “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment” – from the report.

It’s sad to hear that these methods continue, but it’s hardly surprising. Even though past years have given more proof that global warming is indeed occurring, the Republican party still largely denies it while Democrats are sure it exists and are reaching new heights in ineptness when it comes to pushing the issue.

While scientists are still debating whether the rise in global temperatures is part of a natural cycle, few will deny that humans have negatively contributed to the problem. Even if global warming is a natural phenomenon that has occurred in the past, as previous ice ages would suggest, its consequences are dire enough that humans should pay close attention.Scientists have also drilled into ice that is thousands of years old in the Antarctic and elsewhere and analyzed the bubbles of air trapped within.

The findings were rather shocking: In the past, dramatic climate changes occurred within the lifetime of a human being, suggesting the problems arising due to global warming could be even more imminent than previously thought. This means effects could be felt within a matter of years, rather than centuries.

The scientific journal Nature also published a study late last year providing evidence the Gulf Stream – a global ocean current taking warm water from the waters around Florida north and toward Europe – had slowed by one-third. This does not only mean waters around Florida would remain warmer in the future, making hurricanes more likely to occur, but it would also lower Europe’s average temperatures considerably.

After a year that saw more hurricanes than ever on record and Europe reaching record-low temperatures, one should at least feel compelled to pause and scratch one’s head. But President Bush stubbornly insists that any change to national policy would affect America’s “way of life” and is therefore out of the question.

How a 5-mile-per-gallon SUV is more American than its 30-mpg counterpart is beyond me, but the president seems to be sticking to this mode of thinking and is still betting on global warming not being a problem – at least while he remains in office.

In the long run, there are two ways this bet could work out:

Scenario A: Bush and Co. are correct and there is no global warming.If this is true, any changes implemented – such as the Kyoto Protocol – will have been unnecessary. Granted, cleaner air would have been created, but why hug trees when you don’t have to, right?

Scenario B: Global warming does exist and will change the ecosystems on our planet dramatically and lead to political conflicts as well.

I obviously cannot speak for all my readers, but I personally would feel more compelled to prepare for scenario B rather than just hope scenario A is the correct one. I’d rather be proven wrong in 50 years than have to explain to the next generation why my generation stood by and did nothing.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle opinion editor.