A leading climatologist rebuffed those who deny that global warming is a major threat during a speech at an environmental symposium on Jan. 23 at Saint Mary's College.
"Anyone who is honest has to admit we have a problem," said Stephen Schneider, co-director of the Center for Environmental Science and Policy and the Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University. "We probably should have done something about it 30 years ago, but now we have to."
"Saint Mary's College of California Presents Global Warming Solutions for America" was part of the national "Focus the Nation" teach-in on climate change involving more than 1,000 colleges, schools, civic groups and faith organizations during the last week of January. The event included a daylong eco-fair of green vendors and environmental advocacy groups as well as the evening symposium.
Schneider opened his remarks with a cartoon depicting an elf on a chunk of melting arctic ice saying to Santa Claus: "They jury's still out on climate change." He said skeptics who doubt that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming ignore the "preponderance" of scientific evidence.
He noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called evidence of global warming "unequivocal," a term seldom used by scientists. Schneider has written several reports for the IPCC, which received the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
Schneider also showed images of polar bears, creatures that he said have become "iconic" symbols of the environmental movement because recent studies have shown that two-thirds of them may become extinct by 2050 because of melting sea ice.
"The polar bear is not going extinct, but its ecosystem is," said Schneider. "They are threatened by the careless side effects of one species intent on raising their standard of living at any cost."
But Dan Lashof, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, said there is still hope that climate change can be reversed.
"We still have an opportunity by cutting pollution fast enough and in large enough quantities," he said.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050, Lashof said we must focus on energy efficiency by cutting consumption and increasing our use of renewable resources. He noted that Congress recently enacted the first vehicle fuel economy standards in 30 years and increased energy-efficiency standards for lightbulbs, appliance and buildings.
"It is enough? Probably not," said Lashof. "It is worth getting started on? I think so."
Robin Bedell-Waite, who helps small businesses achieve sustainability through the Contra Costa Green Business Program, said companies are realizing that going green is not only good for the environment but also gives them a marketing edge.
"I am being completely deluged by businesses wanting to be green," said Bedell-Waite.
Lashof told the audience that solving global warming won't require major sacrifices in lifestyles in Western countries as much as radical shifts in energy technologies.
"This is actually a problem we know how to solve and the technology is out there to do it," said Lashof.
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