Heating Up for Global Warming Research and Policy
By Kaeti Stoss and Frederick W. Stoss
When the film An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, won the 2006 Academy Award for best documentary feature, it focused people’s attention on the climate crisis (www.climatecrisis.net; www.oscars.org/79academyawards/nomswins.html). In the documentary, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore presented his renowned global warming slideshow with enhanced footage depicting the causes and effects of global warming and his commitment to informing others about it. The film’s evolution actually began in the late 1960s during Gore’s college years at Harvard University. It was there that he learned about the increase of carbon dioxide (CO 2) in the Earth’s atmosphere from the late Roger Lavelle, who was one of the lead scientists planning experiments for the 1957–58 International Geophysical Year and who proposed to Charles D. Keeling the first large-scale measurements of CO 2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Adding to his Oscar, Gore was named as co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts. Details about this award and its recipients are on the Nobel Foundation’s website (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007).
How effective was An Inconvenient Truth in spreading the word about global warming? A look at newspaper coverage of the topics related to global warming and climate change, based on searches in InfoTrac Custom Newspapers, provides an answer. The documentary film received its theatrical release in June 2006, and media promotions began 1 to 2 months prior. Newspapers have shown a marked increase in the coverage of global warming news in the past 15 to 18 months.
SCIENCE AND POLICY DRIVERS SINCE 2000
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; www.ipcc.ch) issued a series of state-of-the-art scientific documents, Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). These reports were written, peer-reviewed, and commented on by panels of scientists from around the world. There are four components of this Report—“Working Group I Report (WGI): The Physical Science Basis”; “Working Group II Report (WGII): Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”; “Working Group III Report (WGIII): Mitigation of Climate Change”; and “The AR4 Synthesis Report.” It was for the efforts of the IPCC in bringing a dedicated, scientific assessment on the issues related to global warming that they share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Gore.
While there is not total unanimity about the scientific assessments presented in these reports, there is compelling evidence indicating that human-induced changes to the climate over the past 3 decades have recognizably affected many physical and biological aspects of the Earth’s biogeochemical systems. The international news tracking and reporting service Truthout (www.truthout.org) has nearly 200 articles related to the IPCC reports and the reactions to them from around the world. In a Scientific American article (“The Physical Science behind Climate Change,” August 2007, pp. 64–73), William Collins and his co-authors discuss why “climatologists are confident that human activity is to blame for a warming world.”
The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), which discusses the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy, is considered the most accurate economic assessment on this topic. The primary conclusions state that 1% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) must be invested annually to prevent the direst effects of global warming. Stern stated in British Broadcasting Corp. interviews prior to his report’s official release, “Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.”
For many, these two reports end the debates about the lack of a scientific consensus on the causes and effects of global warming on national and international scales.
CALCULATING CARBON FOOTPRINTS
It is time to move beyond the science and policy. Calls for action should start with our individual and collective accountabilities to determine how much CO 2 we contribute to the Earth’s atmosphere. These exercises measure our “CO 2 footprints” where we live, work, and play. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change maintains a convenient source of various calculators to assist in developing a better understanding of our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/about/ghgreport/calculators.jsp).
Many other calculators are on the internet and include those for individuals, homes and businesses, alternative energy sources, vehicles, and solid wastes.
EDUCATING THE PEOPLE AND WHAT TO TELL THE KIDS
Educating multiple generations about the complexities, consequences, and controversies related to global warming is an enormous task. This challenge motivated Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore to turn an enhanced version of Gore’s multimedia slide show into a 21st century teach-in on global warming.
Submissions in both Houses of the U.S. Congress require the teaching of global warming issues from a scientific perspective and demonstrate the importance for a strong education commitment on this issue. The Global Warming Education Act (H.R.1728) was submitted by Rep. Michael M. Honda, D-Calif., on March 28, 2007, to authorize the National Science Foundation to establish a global warming education program. A similar bill, Climate Change Education Act (S. 1389), was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on May 14, 2007. Both bills have been referred to committees. To keep up with the progress of these bills, consult THOMAS, the U.S. legislative search engine for the U.S. Congress (www.thomas.gov) and enter the appropriate bill number for details on each.
A search of the ERIC database (www.eric.ed.gov) in October 2007 revealed 194 educational documents and 244 educational journal articles on topics related to global warming and climate change, with more than one-quarter having been published since 2000.
It is impossible to provide in this article a comprehensive inventory of all the outstanding educational resources developed by educators in academic (college and university), formal (elementary and secondary schools), and nonformal (nature centers, museums, zoos, parks, recreation departments, etc.) settings. The accompanying sidebar provides several examples of resources that are available for teachers, students, and parents seeking to teach their children about global warming.
SOCIAL NETWORKING FOR GLOBAL WARMING
The potential impacts of social networks to convey the message of global warming, especially to younger audiences, is a new phenomenon. Social networks, massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), blogs, and other online applications get people involved rather than just keep them informed. The networking capabilities of social networks are enormous. They reach diverse groups of people with different backgrounds but similar interests. These new online tools provide dynamic communication strategies, with new audiences, resources, and communities constantly being formed in response to the needs and wants of the people who use them. However, this fluidity can make the communities very changeable and hard to document.
Environmentalists can use online tools to create large, multimedia events that go beyond what can be done locally or with traditional print sources. Adventure Ecology, a London-based environmental group (www.adventureecology.com), used Second Life to “flood” the virtual cities of Tokyo, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean to simulate the effect that global warming has on peoples’ lives. As the digital cities flooded, volunteer avatars hovered over the sites and handed out information to visitors. Adventure Ecology explained that this virtual destruction is possible in the real world if sea levels rise because of global warming.
National Geographic covered this event on its website, and it interviewed David de Rothschild, a National Geographic Society emerging explorer who helped organize the event (www.news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/04/070404-second-flood.html).
BLOGGING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Recently, Andrew C. Revkin, a science writer for The New York Times, launched a new blog, Dot Earth (http://nytimes.com/dotearth), on “sustainability, that will discuss among a number of issues, global warming from environmental, energy, and sustainability perspectives.”
The environmental group Environmental Defense links science, economics, and law to find equitable solutions and the protections for the environmental rights of all people, including future generations. Its blog, Climate 411 (www.environmentaldefenseblogs.org), explains the issues and policies of global warming in nontechnical terms, as does its podcast, the Insider Podcast.
The Climate Science Forum is a print and online journal edited by Michael A. Fortune (www.climate-science.org). The Geothermal Energy Blog (www.thegeothermalenergyblog.blogspot.com) collects the documentation of key monographic literature relating to geothermal energy. Gerry McKiernan, science and technology librarian at Iowa State University Library, compiles this site along with 14 other blogs on alternative energy sources and library references.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which protects wildlife through law, science, and the support of 1.2 million members and online supporters, blogs at Switchboard (http://Switchboard.nrdc.org), which has 18 regular contributors.
MYSPACE AND FACEBOOK
MySpace created the monthly Impact Awards to honor the community members who have the largest positive impacts on our culture. The winner for the environmental category was Focus the Nation (www.myspace.com/focusthenation), a nonprofit organization that coordinates teams of faculty members and students at more than 1,000 colleges, universities, and K–12 schools in the United States. Its effort collaboratively engages parties in an interdisciplinary discussion about global warming solutions for America.
Users voice their opinions on more than one issue with groups like “Actually, global warming is a bigger problem than Iraq.” The group has more than 12,000 members, and it is the largest global warming group on Facebook (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2222117504). [You must be logged in to view this page.—Ed.]
NONPROFITS WEIGH IN
Most online resource sites, especially those representing nonprofit organizations, set out to inform visitors rather than host flashy events. These sites can foster the growth of communities through comments, forums, and message boards. For example, climate scientists post at RealClimate (www.realclimate.org). This blog limits posts to scientific
topics without any involvement in political or economic implications of the science. The site presents quick, contextual commentary on climate news from a scientific perspective.
Step It Up is a grass-roots effort to raise awareness about climate change. It hosted its second National Day of Climate Action on Nov. 3, 2007, hoping to get politicians involved with the cause. Its goal is to get Congress to set a target to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. Its blog is a current awareness tool on issues related to global warming (www.stepitup2007.org).
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) draws together about 200 companies from around the globe to deal with the business side of sustainable development. Its concentration on energy and climate, development and the role of businesses and ecosystems led to projects promoting energy efficiency in buildings, water use, and capacity building, as well as ventures with industries such as cement, electrical utilities, forest product, mining, minerals, and mobility (www.wbcsd.org). Two blogs provide a much-needed voice from corporate leaders with visions for solving global warming problems.
CLIMATE SKEPTICS, CRITICS, AND NAYSAYERS
Not everyone is convinced that global warming is real or that the climate is in crisis. The ongoing debate on the topic of global warming and climate change focuses on the validity of the science behind major technical policy reports, such as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report. The IPCC reports and other scientific studies have been subject to intense scrutiny by a small group of scientists discounting the findings of these documents.
GlobalWarming.org, the website of the Cooler Heads Coalition, seeks to “balance the heated debate” on global warming and climate change (www.globalwarming.org). World Climate Report has been covering the skeptical side of the climate change debate since March 2004. Patrick J. Michaels, a well-known global warming skeptic with ties to the fossil fuel industry, edits this site (www.worldclimatereport.com).
Greenwash (www.mapcruzin.com/greenwash/index.html) is one of the first internet sites with a dedicated approach for listing a variety of anti-environmental, or Greenwash, organizations. MapCruzin defines greenwash as “Perspectives on right-wing and libertarian think-tanks, free-market and common-sense environmentalists, and their corporate sponsors.”
SourceWatch (www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Category:Global_warming) is one of the foremost sources that monitors the activities of various global warming naysayers. It is a collaborative project of the Center for Media and Democracy. SourceWatch has a policy of strict referencing for wiki entries, and it employs a paid editor.
Additional sites for monitoring climate skeptics include ExxonSecrets (www.exxonsecrets.org), Google Climate Change Skeptics (www.google.com/Top/Society/Issues/Environment/Opposing_Views/Climate_Change_Skeptics), and the Union of Concerned Scientists (www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/investigation-reveals-0007.html).
GETTING THINGS DONE
People interested in climate change want more than just information on the topic; they want feasible solutions. The Facebook group “Advancement of Technology as a Solution to Global Warming and Pollution” fills this niche and has more than 1,100 members (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2210907693). [You must be logged in to view this page.—Ed.]
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change (www.pewclimate.org), established in 1998, fosters a credible response to the issues related to climate change and global warming from the for-profit sector. It enjoys an international reputation as a forum for research, analysis, and sustainable actions to address the solutions to climate change. Some of its 44 corporate members include Alcoa, Inc., The Boeing Co., DuPont, Intel, Lockheed Martin, and Whirlpool Corp.
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE
Once individuals, neighborhoods, communities, or other geopolitical entities become aware of the causes and consequences of global warming and are willing to embrace the challenges in solving the many problems created, it is necessary to take actions.
Vice President Gore is donating all of his Nobel Peace Prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection (www.climateprotect.org). The Alliance provides a multitude of resources enabling stakeholders to take action for solving the climate crisis from home responsibilities to contacting national leaders.
Another alliance to watch is the Apollo Alliance (http://home.apolloalliance.org), which takes its name from the Apollo space program. This organization is a coalition endorsed by the AFL-CIO and 23 international labor unions, major national environmental organizations, and more than 50 businesses. It has the support of more than 100 organizations in the nation’s states and cities. The alliance is pursuing a crash program for clean energy technologies that will create 3 million new, clean-energy jobs and reduce our oil imports.
Additional sources for solutions to global warming include Take Action (www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction), Top 50 Things To Do To Stop Global Warming (http://globalwarming-facts.info/50-tips.html), Citizenre REnU (http://renu.citizenre.com), Energy Star (www.energystar.gov), Fight Global Warming (www.fightglobalwarming.com), How to Fight Global Warming (www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/gsteps.asp), Ben & Jerry’s A Campaign to Fight Global Warming (www.lickglobalwarming.org), the Sierra Club’s Smart Energy Solutions (www.sierraclub.org/energy), and Stop Global Warming (www.stopglobalwarming.org).
Individual states address climate change through a number of different policy choices. Many states are in the measurement and planning stages, but some are beginning to move into policy implementation. The EPA has developed an online matrix to track the ways states are addressing climate change (www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/stateandlocalgov/state_actionslist.html). The matrix provides an overview of these efforts, and it provides links to more detailed information from the respective state processes for the following categories: Planning and Measurement, Targets and Caps, Reporting, Power Sector, and Transportation Sector. The website also provides information about regional initiatives to address climate change.
In September 2007, the National Association of Counties (NACo) conducted the first County Climate Protection Forum (www.naco.org/cffiles/climate/discussion.cfm). This 2-day dialogue and peer-to-peer networking session provided counties with best practices, tools, and resources to assist them in developing and implementing successful climate change programs at home.
Action is not limited to the state and county levels. Scores of cities across the U.S. have embarked on their own global warming reduction campaigns. These cities use their intimate knowledge of the area to create tailored environmental approaches. For instance, in New York City, the NYC Climate Coalition is engaging collaborative partnerships among NYC-based organizations to work on issues surrounding climate change, impacts, and solutions, including actions to obtain a carbon-neutral city through sustainable energy usage, transportation, consumer choice, and education practices in the organizations’ neighborhoods (www.nycclimate.org).
Persons of diverse faiths recognize the beauty and complexity of Earth. Recently, many mainline Christian denominations have taken up the moral and ethical challenges presented by living in a greenhouse-constrained world. They call for faith-based communities to become more environmentally responsible. The Rev. Paul Bosch, a retired Lutheran pastor and liturgy professor, provides three guides about “Greening Christian Worship” in his online publication Worship Workbench (www.worship.ca/docs/ww_115.pdf, www.worship.ca/docs/ww_116.pdf, and www.worship.ca/docs/ww_117.pdf).
Another film made in 2006 on the topic of global warming was The Great Warming (www.thegreatwarming.com). Narrated by Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves, the film is a dramatic photographic tour of the world as it is impacted by changing climates. Scientists, decisionmakers, and policysetters are included in this presentation. Unique to The Great Warming are the voices of the American Evangelical community and other religious groups calling for a close examination of human roles in the global warming debates. The film’s website has a good inventory of resource materials for faith communities (www.thegreatwarming.com/calltoaction/faithcommunities.html).
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life provides a website (www.coejl.org) for its Global Climate Change Campaign, Global Warming: A Jewish Response, with a concise background paper, resources, and external links.
The National Council of Churches of Christ inventories a number of faith statements and resolutions from Christian churches (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) on climate change (www.nccecojustice.org/climatestatement.htm). These statements reflect the beliefs and theologies of the particular denominations or faith groups and are “not only to those of the particular faith group, but to all of us as we apply our beliefs to this urgent issue.” The World Council of Churches has also posted a specific statement and inventory of resources (www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=2606). The Forum on Religion and Ecology (http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/main.html) provides additional belief-based resources.
AND IN THE END
It takes more than winning Oscars and Nobel Prizes to combat global warming. The critical actions in combating global warming call for individuals, neighborhoods, communities, and geopolitical entities to implement a concept of global warming ICE (Inform, Communicate, Educate). Everyone, from large multinational corporations to individuals, is joining the debate on the important issue of global warming and climate change. More important, people are looking for much more than just words to solve the problems. The resources in this article should give you a starting point and should help you stay informed, become educated, and begin communicating about global warming.
In his comments when accepting the Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, former Vice President Gore provided a simple and eloquent call that challenges us all: “We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”