A growing chorus of scientists has declared that mass civil disobedience, threatened by global warming, was necessary and likely, in light of the United States’ rapid population growth.
Scientists were emphatic that widespread rejection of federal policies to lower greenhouse gas emissions was the most likely outcome to cope with the alarming changes that were threatening to wipe out millions of previously flourishing farm families and reshape major cities like New York and Boston.
“If everybody was to get down to business, we would have to build two to three times as many cities and farms as we have already today,” said David R. Holtzman, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who works on natural systems.
The conclusion that public action was necessary for the protection of biodiversity – biodiversity loses its diversity because of inadequate management – was tempered by a number of signs that the crisis was not imminent.
“You can have good years and bad years, and it will not change what people are going to do with the land,” said Marcia Hoffman, dean of the University of California, Davis’ School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.
But Dr. Holtzman suggested that a relatively small, indiscriminate mass movement of people could be effective in dismantling U.S. policies. “What we are seeing now is that mass movement is not just happening on local level,” he said.
Professor Daniel Renshaw, a distinguished professor of history at Stanford University, made the distinction between local and national referendums on proposals to reduce emissions.
While the Harvard University professor explained the difficulty with referendums, he argued that they could not be totally peaceful.
“If people have been voting on these things for a long time – on casinos, on taxes, on health care, on farm subsidies – you can’t send them off to stand on a picket line and demand their way,” said Professor Renshaw.
“It is not those [law] proposals that we need. We need action, and we need it immediately,” Renshaw said.
For one thing, scientist agree that climate change is real. For another, scientists say that for all the nay-sayers, those politicians might have a point.
For one thing, some states such as Texas, where the climate change is so easily spotted, stand to suffer real damage. “You have a huge greenhouse effect … on an equivalent scale to the (North Atlantic) hurricanes,” said Dr. Arthur Stohr, an executive director for the League of Conservation Voters, a liberal-leaning group that pushes for social programs.
For another, scientists say that poor air quality and the human waste fouling many cities have worsened from the doubling of greenhouse gas emissions since 1980. In an area with a highly polluted river, the equivalent of 40 million square miles, air quality may be just as unhealthy as in other parts of the world, scientists say.
As a result, scientists say, the world is essentially in a long-term race to the bottom. The Federal Government is under threat of losing more than $30 billion in tax revenue from emissions limits within the next decade, and at least two states – Texas and Florida – are considering similar measures.
These policies would be useful as an alternative to stiff regulation of greenhouse gas emissions that are already the main cause of droughts and fires in the United States, some of the greatest episodes of global warming.
But the recommended solutions in no way match the situation, scientists agree.
“The ultimate cost of inaction has not yet been fully understood,” said Dr. Joanna Libbe, a senior scientist for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization that backs mandatory, medium-term limits on emissions.
The Clean Air Act was designed to create a uniform climate law, she said, and there are only three indications from the data that the world was warming, an example of messy implementation.
That was proof that the new government under President Barack Obama must be capable of resetting the rules of the game, said Ms. Libbe. “They have to be able to build consensus.”