News your connection to The Boston Globe

Hot air and global warming

EVERY TIME the world calls for action on climate change, the United States emits more White House gases. The latest puff came from James Connaughton, the director of environmental quality, during last week's conference of 20 nations that met in London to attempt once again to make global warming a global priority.

At the conference, British economic minister Gordon Brown said, ''Climate change is a consequence of the build-up of greenhouse gases over the past 200 years in the atmosphere and virtually all these emissions came from the rich countries. Indeed, we became rich through those emissions." Connaughton's response, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, was, ''We're still working on the issue of causation."

Brown said, ''We now have sufficient evidence that human-made climate change is the most far-reaching and almost certainly the most threatening of all the environmental challenges facing us." Connaughton's response as to what he referred as ''the extent to which humans are a factor," was, ''They may be."

Brown said, ''The industrialized countries must take responsibility first in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases." Connaughton complained instead that the target in the Kyoto treaty for the United States to reduce emissions ''was so unreasonable in our ability to meet it that the only we could have met it was to shift energy-intensive manufacturing to other countries."

Two days after dismissing coalition building, the United States went back to emissions building. The Senate, by a vote of 51-49, finally approved oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On efforts to stop global warming, Connaughton said, ''We are trying now to find a portfolio in which three words are important: technology, technology, and technology."

He meant drilling, drilling, drilling. Two years ago the National Academies of Science said that even with improved technologies, drilling on the north slope of Alaska has degraded the tundra, altered wildlife patterns, and has resulted in social problems that blunt claims of unqualified economic progress. Many scientists have said that the oil in the refuge is so relatively minuscule that we would be better off if we simply made our cars more fuel efficient.

Although Connaughton claimed we are ''trying to find" technology, we refuse to use it. The National Academies has for years said the technology exists for more fuel efficient cars. But Congress and the White House, imprisoned by the oil and auto lobby, refuse to raise them.

The vote to drill in Alaska was parallel to another Senate vote to deny an additional $1 billion for Amtrak when studies show that well-developed rail systems can slash traffic and thus global-warming pollution. The United States consumes a quarter of the world's oil and produces a quarter of the planet's greenhouse gases despite being 4 percent of the population. Yet when Brown said that the industrialized countries must take responsibility first, we become the most immature adolescent on Earth, doing precisely the opposite of what we need to do.

Earlier in the month, the former chief scientific adviser to the British government, Lord May of Oxford, bluntly compared Bush to a modern-day Nero. Last fall, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, ''If what the science tells about climate change is correct, then unabated it will result in catastrophic consequences for our world. The science almost certainly is correct."

At the recent London conference, Brown said, ''Environmental issues including climate change have traditionally been placed in a category separate from the economy and from economic policy. But this is no longer tenable. Across a range of environmental issues, from soil erosion to the depletion of marine stocks, from water scarcity to air pollution, it is clear now not just that economic activity is their cause, but that these problems in themselves threaten future economic activity and growth."

Nero and his fiddlers would hear none of that. Asked last month what the science was on global warming, Connaughton said on CNBC, ''There are many different views."

The science ceased to have many views years ago. The very first sentence in the executive summary of the 2001 National Academies of Science report on climate change begins with, ''Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities . . . " The report further said, ''Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century." The science continues to choke under the White House effect.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months