Planet Gore

Brookings Needs Better Messaging

Strobe Talbott and Carlos Pacual in WaPo today, warning us that, gasp!, we (may) have only ”Seven Years to Climate Midnight.”
Climate midnight? That’s your metaphor? When the clock strikes twelve, “Manhattan and Florida will be under water.”

The world may have only seven years to start reducing the annual buildup in greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise threatens global catastrophe within several decades. That means that between Inauguration Day in January 2009 and 2015, either John McCain or Barack Obama will face the most momentous political challenge of all time.

Reflecting a consensus of hundreds of scientists around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has affirmed that greenhouse gas emissions are raising the Earth’s temperature. The Earth is on a trajectory to warm more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by around mid-century. Exceeding that threshold could trigger a series of phenomena: Arable land will turn into desert, higher sea levels will flood coastal areas, and changes in the convection of the oceans will alter currents, such as the Gulf Stream, that determine regional weather patterns.
Manhattan and Florida would be under water, while Nevada would have no water at all. Some Russians quip that they would welcome a more temperate climate, but they would probably be sorry to lose St. Petersburg. Countries such as Bangladesh and Mali do not have the resources to mitigate or even to adapt to the impact of climate change; millions would flee coastal flooding and the desertification of farmlands, creating instant “climate refugees.”
The head of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC, R.K. Pachauri, recently told us: “The cities, power plants and factories we build in the next seven years will shape our climate in mid-century. We have to act now to price carbon and create incentives to change the way we use energy and spread technology — and thereby avert nothing less than an existential threat to civilization.”

Urgent and drastic action by the international community is required, and the United States must take the lead. . . .

Blah blah blah. Until the conclusion: Do it for the the children — for your grandchildren, Hansel and Gretel. Save them from the witching hour of climate catastrophe . . .

Many Americans will accept that logic, and make real changes, only if they believe greenhouse gas emissions will affect them personally. Today’s adults, even if they will not be around at mid-century, must think about the fate of their children and grandchildren. Obama can look to his two daughters, and McCain to his four grandchildren. They are among nearly 75 million Americans — and 2.2 billion people worldwide — younger than 18. That generation will be in its 40s or 50s when one of two things happens: Either the temperature of the planet warms more than 4.5 degrees and vast regions slide toward being uninhabitable, or the wisdom of the next president and his fellow leaders around the world pays off in the ultimate reward — survival.

Talbott and Pascual have done a great service here, come to think of it. Considering Al Gore hit the interview circuit to up the rhetorical ante on T. Boone’s Pickens’ Plan, I think we can count on our eponymous hero to refuse to be outdone in the hysterical-metaphor department for his DNC speech tonight. This could be very entertaining.

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