Climate WMDs

To the Editor:

 "Climate change is the greatest weapon of mass destruction of our times. Unless we in rich countries recognize this fact and do something about it, we are guilty of crimes against humanity." That wake up call comes from Dr. Saleemul Huq, the Bangladeshi biologist who directs the Institute for International Economics and Development in London.

If that strong challenge to the status quo wakes us up, the next question is, "What exactly should we be doing about it?" Mark Hertzgaard gives us many answers and examples of leaders who are putting solutions into action in his just published (by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January) "HOT: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth."

He quotes Dr. John Holdren, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Director, Science Advisor to Presidents Clinton and Obama, former Professor at Harvard and Berkeley, "We basically have two choices: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. We're already doing some of all three. The question is what the mix will be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required, and the less suffering there will be."

Many of us are puzzled by the vocabulary of science. Mitigation means reducing greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees, restricting our travel, installing wind turbines and solar panels. Adaptation covers how you corral the horses that have already gone through the open barn door: building higher levees, adding insulation, changing methods of transportation, conserving water, etc.

With only a 2 degree centigrade increase the permafrost of Russia and Canada will thaw, releasing 1,500 billion tons of CO2 and methane. That is twice the amount that is now in the atmosphere. Dr. Hans Schellnhuber, Germany's equivalent of our Dr. Holdren, calls it "Climate Chaos" because it triggers an accelerating, unstoppable change, dooming us to an inescapable living hell.

Locally, we have to be concerned because that means the arctic and mountaintop ice and snow, already melting fast, would change the salinity and the depth of the oceans, affecting fishing and shorelines. Lloyd's of London believes the seas will rise 6 1/2' by 2100, just 90 years from now! They got that figure from their climate consultant, Professor David Smith of Oxford University.

Provincetown and Sandwich, Edgartown and Nantucket, oceanfront property owners everywhere, have much to be worried about. Whole islands and some countries would become Atlantis-like underwater ghosts. Boston, Manhattan, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, and ever so many more centers of civilization would no longer be functional.

So why elect to wait for the inconveniences of adaptation, or for the suffering of extreme weather events to increase? Mitigation is more painless, and helps green up our struggling economy at the same time it improves our personal health and preserves our treasured landscape.

Richard C. Bartlett
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