"Al Gore's 'Truth' is a global warning" - My View column, Cape Cod Times, Sunday June 25, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s new documentary detailing his slide presentation on global warming, opens across Cape Cod this weekend.  I saw this presentation in person in 2004 and was profoundly disturbed at the future he depicts: sea levels rising dozens of feet; more frequent killer ocean storms like Katrina; wildly varying weather patterns; “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations” as Mr. Gore describes it.  If, that is, we fail to immediately reduce the pollution that is causing this climate crisis.

The science behind global warming has been long understood - greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide form a blanket around the globe that traps heat inside our atmosphere.  Using air samples from ice cores drilled in Antarctica and elsewhere, scientists have peered 650,000 years into the past and found that the correlation between CO2 and temperature is pegged - when one goes up or down, the other always follows.

After centuries of recent stability, the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration started a surge upward 200 years ago.  It is now 30% higher than at any other time in that 650,000 year span, and rising rapidly.  Correspondingly, our planet is warming rapidly – one degree F in the last century, with the ten warmest years on record all occurring since 1990.  And the rate of warming is accelerating.

So climatologists naturally theorized that the CO2 released from our burning of fossil fuels, beginning around 1800, was responsible.  After decades of gathering data, tweaking their computer models, adjusting their theories, gathering more data, etc., their conclusion is clear – mankind is dramatically altering our planet’s climate.

This conclusion is not in doubt.  Mr. Gore cites a December 2004 study in the journal Science, which examined 928 randomly-selected climate papers published between 1993 and 2003.  Not one of these peer-reviewed papers disagreed with the scientific consensus of man-made global warming.  Additionally, recent statements from the heads of the National Science Academies of a dozen industrial nations (Britain, China, India, Japan, and the U.S. among others), and six former heads of the EPA, have urged all nations to act aggressively to curb emissions.

And yet many Americans doubt this robust theory.  Which as Mr. Gore also points out is no accident; rather, this doubt has been strategically fostered by a well-funded disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry.  The countless millions of dollars the industry has spent to dispute global warming theory has worked wonders, stalling any meaningful action for 20 plus years.  A case in point is a recent ad from the ‘think-tank’ Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2 million in funding from Exxon-Mobil since 1998) focusing on the literally one data point on the planet in interior Greenland showing increasing ice mass - a predicted outcome of increased precipitation in a very cold place, by the way - while ignoring the thousands of glaciers and ice floes that are disappearing.

Meanwhile, the entire Greenland ice sheet is accelerating toward the sea.  If it collapses, sea levels would rise 20 feet.  If the Antarctic ice sheet collapses, add another 20 feet.  Mr.Gore’s computer-simulated images of such a world are frightening - dense population centers like Florida and Manhattan half-submerged.

Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top climatologist, thinks we can avoid such a nightmare scenario, but only if we act decisively within the next decade.  Using a variety of off-the-shelf technologies, combined with meaningful conservation efforts, he thinks we can significantly reduce our emissions.

One of those technologies is wind.  We desperately need projects like Cape Wind (and now South Coast Wind), and we need them producing clean power now.  These projects will not solve the climate crisis by themselves, but they represent a vital first step, immediately offsetting hundreds of millions of tons of CO2.

Opponents of Cape Wind constantly say that Nantucket Sound is simply not the right place.  But this argument implies an either/or decision, a false choice.  This planetary crisis isn’t going away if we simply build a wind farm somewhere else – we need these projects wherever and whenever feasible.  Today that means utility-scale projects in Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay and municipal projects in Orleans.  In another ten years when the technology has matured it means in deep-water; likewise when solar and tidal mature.  Every mega-watt of power that we get from a clean source is a mega-watt that doesn’t come from a smokestack, thereby contributing to our planet’s premature demise.

We have a moral obligation to act to safeguard our children’s health and welfare.  And if we can’t build a wind farm in the windiest, most ideal spot on the Eastern Seaboard, then I truly fear for their future.  Joseph Turnbull of West Yarmouth put it best at the Army Corps hearing in his town in December 2004.  He asked plaintively, “What does it benefit us to ‘Save Our Sound’ if we lose our planet?”  Good question.