This column appeared in the Waikato Times on 17 February
Suddenly there appears to be hope. Barack Obama is definite: “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” It’s climate change he’s talking about.
For eight dismal years the Bush administration refused even to acknowledge the threat, let alone take leadership in addressing it. Vested interests prevailed against the scientists who have come to understand what is happening to the climate. The US, alone of all the world’s nations once Australia left their side, refused to participate in even the modest Kyoto treaty and consistently tried to subvert progress towards any further binding international agreement. This although they are responsible for more than 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions and have the highest per capita emissions of all the larger nations.
Has that all changed? Will Obama’s words be translated into effective action? Early signs are positive. Consider just two of the key appointments he has made. The new Secretary of Energy is Stephen Chu, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. His interest in energy has grown out of his concern about climate change. He wants to move rapidly to renewable energy sources, and to see in the US a national grid which can carry wind- and solar-generated electricity to the population centres where it is needed. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times he said, “I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen. We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.” Already Hillary Clinton in her forthcoming visit to China as Secretary of State is likely to be discussing ways in which the two countries can work together in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through clean energy development. This would mark a big change from the sterile arguments about who should do what first which have so far marked the two countries’ exchanges on climate matters.
Many hopes are resting on President Obama. None are of greater importance for the human future than this one. So far it looks well founded.