THE PROPER SIZE OF A COCKER SPANIEL

By BILL McLAUGHLIN, a member of REP’s Board of Directors

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Originally published in the summer 2006 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant newsletter

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Recently, there were two conflicting op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal related to the threat of climate change to our way of life.

One was by former Vice President Al Gore, who failed terribly to explain the importance of this issue while campaigning for the presidency.

The other, discounting and distorting much of the scientific evidence for the human–caused component of climate change, was by a long-time paid consultant for the coal industry.

We are all entitled to our opinions, but — unlike opinions on the content of movies, which is a matter of taste, or opinions on the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel, which is of interest to a limited number of dog fanciers — opinions on the dangers of climate change are not Cocker Spaniel matters. A wrong opinion on this matter, widely shared, has the potential to destroy our civilization.

Although a physicist by education, I long ago moved into the industrial world and cannot make judgments based on personal studies of computer models and atmospheric data. I can, however, make judgments based upon empirical evidence and a review of scientific reports done by others whom I respect.

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There are five aspects of the climate change question.

First is the overwhelming consensus of the global scientific community that, over the coming decades, events which have already started will become even more extreme and threaten our nation and others around the world.

Second is a brief review of ongoing events exacerbated by climate change and the projections for the future.

Third is the ethical aspect of political leaders facilitating distortion of scientific reports in order to remove alarms being raised by responsible government scientists.

Fourth is the lack of government support for realistic approaches to lowering risk, which has inhibited development of domestic industrial solutions to compensate for the effects of climate change.

The fifth aspect relates to national security considerations of using this head-in-the-sand approach to this major problem.

Surely these are far more important than the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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Ignoring the risks is foolish and dangerous.

Three studies stand out:

  1. one by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a subsidiary of the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization;
  2. continuing efforts of Environment Canada since the mid 1990s; and
  3. the 2000 report by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology of the Office of the President.

These three efforts each involved hundreds of scientists from around the world. Each has been subjected to rigorous peer review. Each has seen most of the early predictions about climate change come true.

None predicted cataclysmic, short- term events, but all predict severe long-term consequences. Sound science has demonstrated that changes are coming and that there is significant human contribution to the severity of the problem. All the spin in the world cannot change the science.

This is far more important than the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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In the 1990s, scientists were predicting major warming in the polar regions.

It appears now that they were right.

Winter temperatures in many areas of the Arctic are now 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than just a few decades ago. Permafrost is melting, resulting in emissions of methane, which is a much more potent green- house gas than carbon dioxide.

Two years ago during a National Geographic Society expedition to Antarctica, I saw large amounts of grass growing near a stream, something unheard of a few years ago.

Animal populations are stressed, causing losses in many species: polar bears, caribou, walruses, etc.

Pine and spruce forests are being devastated by beetles whose populations were previously controlled by hard winter freezes.

As scientists predicted, major long- term drought has taken hold in the mid-section of North America, threatening to reduce its agricultural productivity.
Scientists predicted much more severe hurricanes worldwide, and guess what? The insurance industry has noticed.

RMS, one of the leading catastrophic modelers serving the financial services industry, recently released a revised model showing that higher ocean temperatures are likely to result in stronger Atlantic hurricane activity over the next five years.

Rising sea levels and oceanic circulation changes are long-term threats. Recent reports of a 20 percent slowdown in the flow of the Gulf Stream are not reassuring. Western Europe can only sustain its population by the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

The early predictions were on target, and they are already affecting our nation and our world. The future predictions are only sequels to changes already occurring.

This is far more important than the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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In theory, science is pure, unaffected by emotion, desire or spin.

It can, however, be affected by power and money.

History is full of such examples. Copernicus, Vesalius and Galileo all suffered at the hands of fools. In recent years, there have been proven instances of government officials removing or altering sections of documents related to the threat of climate change, thus reducing the level of public awareness. Those who conducted, condoned and/or authorized these attempts at suppressing information about threats to our people selfishly put cheap politics ahead of the safety of their fellow citizens.

We have lost six years to spin and posturing, time that could have been better spent adopting prudent measures to reduce the risks and effects of climate change. President Bush has been ill served by these people, but it seems he has finally come to understand the threat facing us. We must urge him and Congress to move faster in the right direction. Kyoto may not be the perfect solution but it beats inaction.

This is far more important that the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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Time wasted is opportunity lost.

Every two years, the worldwide Globe environmental business conference in Vancouver brings together prominent government, industry and scientific leaders. This year about 10,000 attended from 87 countries, including the United States. To say that this year’s delegates were alarmed about the current and projected impacts of climate change is a vast understatement.

It is important to realize that the attendees included presidents and vice presidents of hundreds of some of the largest companies in the world.

Fortunately, when it comes to climate change, these business leaders are looking for opportunities to raise shareholder value rather than wallow in denial.

There are many examples of companies that have dramatically reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, thus reducing their energy costs while increasing their profits. We in business are supposed to be in the profit-generating business, not the greenhouse gas-generating business. A national energy policy that moves us toward renewable and non-polluting energy generation (such as that promoted by the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act) would help.

If McCain-Lieberman is enacted into law, domestic industries, including the coal industry, will find ways to reduce their emissions. Renewable energy developers will be driven by market forces to improve the efficiencies of their systems. Businesses and others will look for ways to improve their energy efficiency, in order to get more value out of every dollar spent on energy.

Our companies are falling behind the European and Asian competitors that have markets for their products. We are inhibiting U.S. industrial growth by our inaction.

This is far more important than the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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Time wasted is risk ignored.

The threat of terrorism may pale in comparison to the national security threats of climate change. If we do nothing, food and water shortages will lead to increased tensions and danger of war.

In 2003, our Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment—under the direction of the highly respected Andrew Marshall—released a sobering report describing the serious risks of climate change for national security. Thankfully, at least the Defense Department is immune from the need to spin and pretend there is no problem.

This is far more important than the proper size of a Cocker Spaniel.

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The time to address the human causes of climate change is long past.

We must get at it. Continuation of the current policies will only make the problems more severe. A sustainable, profitable economy is achievable, but the widespread adoption of climate-friendly technologies and business models will not occur in a policy vacuum. Our politicians must do their duty.

What is the proper size of a cocker spaniel? I do not know, and I do not care.

What I care about is our grandchildren and our country. As citizens, we must demand that our leaders get out of denial, stop carrying water for the selfish special interests, face up to the problem of climate change, and get to work solving it.

ORIGINAL 2006 CREDIT: William J. McLaughlin is a trained physicist and successful environmental entrepreneur who now runs an international business. He’s a trustee of Senator John McCain’s Straight Talk America, which he represents each year at the Globe international environmental business conference. Bill is also an enthusiastic member of REP’s Board of Directors. First elected in 2002, he was recently re-elected to his second four-year term.

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