The Guardian 14 February, 2007

Culture and Life

by Susan Webb

Exxon, Bush fiddle while planet burns

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Top scientists from 113 countries issued a landmark report on February 2 declaring for the first time that global warming caused by human activity is undeniable, and forecasting potentially disastrous results if present trends continue unchecked. It singled out use of fossil fuels — meaning oil, gas and coal — as the primary source of the leading global-warming gas, carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, on February 1 the world’s largest oil corporation, Exxon Mobil, announced the largest profits ever earned by a US company — US$40 billion in 2006. A day later, the UK Guardian reported that the Exxon-funded Bush-connected American Enterprise Institute sent letters to scientists and economists offering them $10,000 each to write articles that undermine the UN-sponsored report.

These are "desperate and hopeless efforts to try to debunk the broad and overwhelming scientific consensus", said Glen Brand, Director of the Sierra Club "Cool Cities" campaign. He noted that Exxon has a "long history of funding junk science to confuse the public regarding the reality of global warming and its solutions".

In addition to the oil giant’s obvious profit motive, Brand said, some critics point to Exxon’s "close connections with the extreme right-wing ideology represented by the Bush administration". AEI ideologues, among the biggest Iraq War hawks, pushed Bush’s new Iraq escalation move. Former Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond is Vice-Chairman of AEI’s board of trustees.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report presents the findings of hundreds of world scientists over the past six years on the "human and natural drivers of climate change."

The report states, "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels."

The panel’s last report, in 2001, called human-caused climate change "likely"– a greater than 66 percent probability. Now, the scientists call their conclusions "very likely" — bumping up the certainty to greater than 90 percent.

And the warming is speeding up. The "warming trend over the last 50 years is nearly twice that for the last 100 years" the report says. It is "extremely unlikely" that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without "external forcing" — in other words, human actions, the report concludes.

As a result of this overall warming "numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed", the report says. Among these are dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures, shrinking sea ice and widespread changes in rainfall, wind patterns and extreme weather including more intense and longer droughts, heat waves, heavy rains and cyclones.

Based on extensive studies of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; aerosols (particles like sulphate, carbon, nitrate and dust); and ozone-forming chemicals, as well as changes in the sun’s radiation, the world scientists report "a very high confidence" — defined as "at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct" — that the net effect of human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been global warming. In particular, levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have "increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values."

"Global warming poses real dangers to our economy, our environment, our public health and safety", said Brand. "The real issue is what we’re going to do about it."

Brand urged support for the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act and its companion Safe Climate Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. "This is where most scientists say we need to be to stabilise our climate", Brand said.

In a "consumer’s guide" to the State of the Union address, public interest watchdog Public Citizen charged that Bush has "rejected classifying carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions as pollutants and has resisted proposals to ‘cap’ carbon emissions".

Public Citizen praised the House passage of HR 6, part of the Democrats’ 100-hour agenda, which would revoke $14 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies and dedicate that money to investing in clean energy and energy efficiency. But Bush has threatened a veto, the group noted, "showing that he remains beholden to Big Oil and other polluters".

Brand commented, "inescapably we’ll need strong federal response but we can’t wait". Initiatives at the state and local levels are necessary grassroots pressure, he emphasised.

People’s Weekly World

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