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leaders believe that we can still reverse the dangerous current course. “These next few years are going to tell the tale about the next 10,000 years,” well-known global environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “We’re not going to stop global warming; it’s too late for that. But we can keep it from getting as bad as it could possibly get.”


The Right Steps Now Can Avert the Worst of It by Christine MacDonald


enowned climate sci- entist Richard

Somerville, Ph.D., uses simple lan- guage and sports analogies to help us understand climate change and the risks ahead.

“We’re not going to stop

global warming; it’s too late for that. But we can keep it from getting as bad as it could possibly get.”

~ Bill McKibben A distinguished professor emeri-

tus, researcher at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and author of The Forgiving Air, he likens greenhouse gases to a scandal that’s rocked major league baseball in recent years. “Greenhouse gases are the ste- roids of the climate system,” he says. Although we can’t link them to any single weather event, we can see them in the statistics at the end of the sea- son, Somerville says. With the bases loaded, “Look out, because Mother Nature bats last.” To explain how we could confront the problem, he turns to another sport, skiing. If we were serious about avoiding a worst-case scenario, we would have

32 Collier/Lee Counties

opted for the “bun- ny slope” approach, a leisurely descent from the ubiquitous use of climate- changing fossil fuels. Unfortunately, greenhouse gases would have had to peak two years ago

and now be in decline in order to take the easy way out. Instead, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere shot past 400 parts per million last May, a level that most scientists agree the planet hasn’t experienced since long before the arrival of modern humans. “Science tells you, you can put this

much carbon dioxide into the atmo- sphere, but no more,” without changing the planet’s climate too dramatically, Somerville says. “Mother Nature tells you, you cannot wait 50 or 100 years to solve this. You have to do it in five to 10 years. There’s been a general failure to connect the dots.” The bit of good news is that time has not yet completely run out. He and other pioneering thought

On the Energy Front McKibben’s grass- roots group,, opposes the planned Keystone XL pipe- line that, if built, is expected to transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Increasing fossil fuel infrastruc- ture, he says, is impractical, and we’d be better off investing in clean and renewable energies such as wind, solar and geothermal. It’s a theme also

Bill McKibben

sounded by Frances Beinecke, president of the New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council and author of Clean Energy Com- mon Sense. With the failure of the U.S. Congress to enact climate legislation,

Frances Beinecke

her group, encompassing 1.4 million online members and activists, is pressing the Obama administration to live up to its pledge to regulate the carbon dioxide emitted by power plants. The leading culprits for climate-changing gases, they contribute 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions. “It’s time to act, and we have to act now,” Beinecke says.

On the Water Front Sandra Postel agrees. “Water, energy and food production: These things are tightly linked, and all are affected by climate change.” From Los Lunas, New Mexico, she leads the Global Water Policy Project, a group also focused on the climate conundrum, as well

Matt Greenslade /

Nancy Battaglia

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