Monday, January 29, 2007

A Big Week...

In fact, one of the biggest in five years... at least as far as the study of climate change is concerned. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meets this week in France, and on Friday that gathering will culminate in the release of the panel's fourth assessment on climate change. What's the verdict? To some degree, that depends on where you already stand.

In December, I wrote a post for Treehugger and Seventh Generation's Convenient Truths contest about a preview of the assessment in the UK Telegraph. That article's headline, "UN downgrades man's impact on the climate," might seem like an admission that the skeptics were right -- the scientists were overblowing the impact of human activities on the climate crisis. In fact, several noted skeptics, including Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, pointed to the article as their "smoking gun." Not so fast, though: the report still state that atmospheric carbon levels have accelerated since the panel's last report in 2001. One member, who wished to remain anonymous, noted "The bottom line is that the climate is still warming while our greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated, so we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future."

Of course, things have changed even since that December 19th post: for one, Dubya acknowledged climate change in his State of the Union address, and called for a 20% reduction in gasoline use in the next 10 years (which is ambitious, in and of itself). The topic dominated the just-closed World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, with European leaders calling for broader and even more ambitious targets: "...a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020."

In a roundabout way, I'm wondering if the report on Friday will only "seal the deal," so to speak. The last holdouts, mainly certain politicians in Washington, seem to be coming around. John McCain, who's probably watching every word he says these days (but who's also been a supporter of action against climate change), told the crowd at Davos "I admit that it is very late, and it may not be enough ... but I think that for the first time, you are going to see some action on this compelling issue." Forget what the president said: this is presidential candidate, and one who's looking to solidify the conservative base! We've got to wonder if we've hit the tipping point of tipping points: when even the political classes realize that waffling will no longer cut it.

I'm meandering tonight, but this is really too big of an issue for pat statements (not that I ever make those, mind you!). But we've seen some rumblings in the past couple of weeks that we could've only imagined a year ago. Are we there? Are we finally going to see some substantive steps? It's too early to say for certain, but I think we can say that the direction of the debate has never looked so positive...

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