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November 27, 2018

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Beware of costly delay in battling global warming

Ni Tao,

Your words of compassion recently in the Shanghai Daily (“Respect Mother Nature, or suffer her wrath,” November 23) regarding the people who suffered from, and who fought these most recent horrific fires remind us that we are all human beings who share common hopes, fears, and sufferings.

Wherever in our world disaster strikes, and whether it be from floods, hurricanes, cyclones, fires, or tsunamis, the human response is marvelous, both from within the population that is suffering but also from their fellow beings scattered across the globe.

We could find a way to tap the truth of these shared bonds to put at least half the energy we humans put into building weapons of destruction into building bridges of peace between and among us.

Unfortunately, the ostrich-like stance of the current administration towards climate change is not only contributing to the likelihood of more such domestic disasters as the California fires but also to the imminent sufferings of hundreds of thousands of human beings around the world.

I have never in my life before witnessed this kind of magnitude of willed ignorance.Not only does the president himself peddle the nonsense that global warming is illusory, but he has appointed persons throughout his administration who not only share this belief, but also work hand in hand with fossil fuel giants to produce even more gas, oil and coal.

In fact, we now know that the decision last year to roll back the boundaries of many national parks — boundaries that were put in place to protect fragile lands and their denizens — was done in compliance with maps prepared by the oil and gas industries showing where additional reserves were located, consequences to the environment be damned.

Just as atmospheric currents make tornadoes more likely in a wide swath running from the southwest through the midwest, so do certain factors make catastrophic fires in California even more likely in the future: a continuation of the decades-long drought that is similar to some of those in the past which can last as long as hundreds of years, the abundant fuel available in dried out vegetation, the Santa Ana winds that gust westward from higher elevations and that push extremely dry air at great velocity towards the Pacific, causing any existing fires to spread with incredible speed.

You mention some of the approaches being considered to mitigate the impact of future fires, but also note the extreme financial costs these will carry.

It may be human instinct, but it is certain that in this country we are far better at measuring — and flinching from — the costs of acting as opposed to those of not acting. While the ultimate “cost” — no matter how measured — is, I suspect, always significantly greater than proactive measures, we tend to underestimate these and view favorably the risk of waiting.

Just yesterday (November 24), a report prepared by 13 US federal agencies issued a fresh and dramatic warning about the imminent threat of global warming to the United States.

It also discussed the many ways — financially, ecologically, and in terms of human lives lost — global warming would impact this country. Amazing that the Trump administration did not somehow find a way to muzzle that report from ever appearing.

As you noted, the sad truth is that we really do know the reality of global warming; we also have a very good idea of what it is going to mean for natural resources and human lives, including increased forced migration from threatened coastal areas.

Yet, beyond passing nicely worded statements of concern, the world community seems unable — or unwilling — to tackle what must be done if the worst of the already unfolding crisis is to be avoided.

Thank you for your article. May we all come to our senses in time!


The author is a retired US statesman.


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