Tuesday, December 08, 2009


As people from throughout the world gather to talk about climate change, it is good to explore some of the questions that will determine whether Copenhagen will be about hopes realized or hopes dashed by business as usual. Many stories are circulating in the media, globally and even here in the United States. Here are a few that I believe cut to some of the more important aspects of possible futures.

The December 4, 2009 installment of Living on Earth is an in-depth discussion of several ways in which the Amazon region of the world is involved -- and implicated -- in climate change. I followed this with particular interest, since I did my dissertation research in Rondonia and am currently working on the second edition of a book about the region and how it is perceived. The entire program is valuable; I find the Cattle Climate Connection segment particularly interesting, as it connects food and land use to a problem we normally associate only with transportation and electricity generation.

On the day prior to the Copenhagen conference, National Public Radio described recent surveys that indicate waning interest -- and even belief -- in climate change. The physical processes that drive climate change are not like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus; "choosing" whether or not to believe does not change the process -- only choosing to act can do that. This story links attitudes to some of their causes, including -- oddly enough -- a sense of futility. As Al Gore has pointed out, one reaction is to move quickly from disbelief in the whole process to a sense that the process is unstoppable -- these positions are exactly opposite, but yield the same result.

As if to signal a new administration's willingness to accept -- and act on -- scientific consensus, the Environmental Protection Agency chose the opening of the Copenhagen conference to release its finding that greenhouse gases are pollutants that threaten public health. NPR's All Things Considered describes the legal basis for this finding and its implications.

Finally, All Things Considered desribes the opening of the conference itself and reasons for skepticism about action that might be taken.

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