Saturday, December 12, 2009

Healing Inch by Inch?

Earlier today I watched the movie Any Given Sunday with Al Pacino. I've seen it before and love it because I use to play football in high school.

It was the summer of '87 when my high school football coach called me to tell me he needed me on the team as an offensive lineman. I was short relative to the others on the line, but was strong and fearless. I was so happy and honored he called me to be part of the team.

My job on the offensive line was simple. Protect the QB at all times and run a sweep play where I took out the defensive end to clear the path for my running back. We must have run that play hundreds of times and I remember that as painful as it got on my body, I loved the game and the team spirit.

Football was a big deal during my high school years. It still is as the Notre-Dame Cactus were crowned champions last November. One memory that stands out in my mind is a whopping victory we had over Lindsay Place high school.

I can't forget it because we annihilated them and acted cocky throughout the whole game. Our coach, Jacques Gauthier, wasn't pleased with our unsportsmanlike attitudes. The day after, he brought us to the University of Montreal field, which unlike our field was hard AstroTurf, and made us sprint the full length of the field about 40 or more times. It was cold and raining that night.

And boy did we sprint. When everyone started collapsing, puking, sucking up air, the coach whistled us in for a huddle. "The next time you guys want to act like arrogant jerks, remember this practice because I won't be as easy on you". Needless to say, we won lots of games, lost the championship, but never acted like arrogant idiots ever again.

The last time I saw my high school football coach was a few years after I got diagnosed with MS. He was fighting his own battle with cancer and we chatted about life. He died a few years later but I'll never forget what he told me, no matter how hard it gets, you keep moving forward. He was a great coach and a great man.

I don't know why I'm sharing this story but just like football, life is a game of inches. As world leaders get ready to meet in Copenhagen this week, it's unbelievable how much skewed coverage 'Climategate' is receiving.

I happen to agree with Tom Friedman who recently wrote this in an op-ed column, Going Cheney on Climate:

Frankly, I found it very disappointing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a “trick” to “hide” a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing. Yes, the climate-denier community, funded by big oil, has published all sorts of bogus science for years — and the world never made a fuss. That, though, is no excuse for serious climatologists not adhering to the highest scientific standards at all times.

That said, be serious: The evidence that our planet, since the Industrial Revolution, has been on a broad warming trend outside the normal variation patterns — with periodic micro-cooling phases — has been documented by a variety of independent research centers.

As this paper just reported: “Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization made public on Tuesday. The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record.”

This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.

What we don’t know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It’s all a game of odds. We’ve never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is “irreversible” in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 buildup has the potential to unleash “catastrophic” warming.

When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is “irreversible” and potentially “catastrophic,” I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.

If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.

But if we don’t prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that’s why I’m for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for 1 percent.

Friedman reiterated this message with CNN's Campbell Brown, drawing an interesting connection between climate crisis and the financial crisis:

They are both based on the same faulty accounting. What we call the great recession has actually been an environmental crisis and an economic crisis coming together. How so? In the financial world, we allowed people to massively underprice risk (risk of subprime mortgages), we allowed them to privatize gains from selling those mortgages, then when it all blew up, we allowed them to socialize the losses...We are doing the same in nature. We allow people to massively underprice the risk of emitting carbon molecules, we allow them to privatize the gains from cheap coal and electricity, and we are socializing the losses by charging all those CO2 molecules on our kids' Visa cards which they will pay for in the form of future climate change.

One other thing on the financial crisis caught my attention this weekend. It seems there is a movement to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Of course, while this amendment makes perfect sense, the banksters will fight it tooth and nail, effectively killing it before it sees the light of day.

But the inches we need to make a difference in this world are everywhere around us. I urge world leaders, corporate leaders, pension leaders, banking leaders and everyone else to listen to Al Pacino's inspirational speech below and carefully think about doing what's best for the common good. If there was ever a time we needed to band together and forge ahead, now is that time.

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