While we sleep, the world is slowly boiling

Friday January 11 2013


When I was growing up in Chicago, the winters were fierce.  Icy winds blew in from Lake Michigan and the temperatures often hovered at -29 degrees Celsius.

Snow drifted as high as five feet against our home, and it stayed until late spring. Chicago has not had snow in 319 days, breaking a record that stretches back into the 1940s.  Of course, that may change because an artic front is headed toward the Great Lakes. Winter lasts until March 10.

But the unusual circumstances belie the biggest story on the planet – and one that was not discussed in the recent presidential elections in America.

China is having its coldest winter. Australia is enduring record-breaking heat waves and fires.

Candace Crowley, the CNN senior reporter who moderated the mid-October presidential debate, decided to not ask about climate change because she thought that the nation’s economy was a more important subject.

The subject is a low priority throughout the world. The reason is fairly simple, according to a Yale University study. Some 40 percent of the world’s peoples do not know anything about the subject. 

Anthony Leiserowitz, who is a researcher and lecturer at Yale on climate change, says that it’s very difficult to get things accomplished unless there’s a grass roots movement. Both Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have tried top down approaches on the subject and have had little success.

The issue is as complex, though, as mankind. We tend to focus in cycles, whether it be every four years with an election or with a harvest.

Too, a small, determined group believe the science put forth by the oil industry – the science that says climate change is a natural event. In a conversation with journalist Bill Moyer, Leiserowitz said that America’s answer could possibly bubble up from the Republicans, who have been looking for new issues.

He notes that former President George H.W. Bush was able to successfully stop the acid rain problem in the early 1990s by coming up with a credit scheme that encouraged businesses to do the right thing.

So where does that leave us?  In America, our breadbasket went through unthinkable drought last year. In Kenya, Lake Victoria is shrinking in size. We are seeing disease pick up at record paces: There are tents outside of hospitals in some places in America because there is not enough room for patients.

The answer, argues Leiserowitz, is a public ground swell, much like we saw in America with Civil Rights in the 1960s and, as we’re seeing now, with the debate over how to prevent gun violence.

There is a new town in Guatemala. It’s name is Paseo Cayala, and it is for the rich. The gated community sits just outside of Guatemala City, which faces many challenges from poverty and crime.

But in Paseo Cayala, the residents sit outside on verandas, sip exotic drinks and enjoy the good life. The city was built to protect the rich from crime and the rest of the world.

Nothing, however, will be able to protect the residents of Paseo Cayala from climate change.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the homes and businesses of New Jersey, it did not discriminate between Democrats and Republicans. The Chinese cold snap has hurt everyone, rich and poor.

Australian forecasters are predicting historic heat levels in the next few months. 

When will we give this attention?