Global Climate Change
While various hypotheses for human-induced climate change have been debated for years, the scientific debate has moved on from skepticism. Today there is scientific consensus that human activity is, beyond a reasonable doubt, the primary explanation for the current rapid changes in the world’s climate. Consequently, the political and social debate has largely shifted to reducing human impact and adapting to change that has already occurred.
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program is integrating federal research on global change and climate change, and the British Columbia government has established the LiveSmart BC program.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The IPCC is a scientific body, established in 1988 by the United Nations, to evaluate the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The most recent report (Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, PDF 1.9 mb) concludes: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas concentrations.” Scientists project additional melting of sea ice and sea level rise, and more frequent and intense weather events (hot extremes, heat waves, heavy precipitation events, typhoons, and hurricanes). The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
Climate Change and Biodiversity
The life cycles of many wild plants and animals are closely linked with day length and weather patterns. Climate change can lead to interdependent pairs of species losing synchronization (e.g. a wild flower and its pollinating insect). Predicted changes include extinctions, changes in distribution (e.g. habitat shifts to higher latitudes and elevations), and increasing abundance of weedy or opportunistic species at the expense of more specialized species. Many agencies and conservation organizations are monitoring and researching the effects of climate change on biodiversity and advancing policies to promote adaptation to climate change and limit its effects. The following online resources provide more information on this subject.
A carbon tax is a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, which primarily comes from burning fossil fuels. It is a pollution tax, which economists favor because it taxes and discourages a “bad” rather than a “good” (such as income). A carbon tax addresses the external costs of carbon dioxide, creating an incentive for energy conservation. Carbon taxes also make renewable energy more competitive.
Several European countries adopted carbon taxes in the 1990s. Canada and the United States have been slower to respond. In 1993, President Bill Clinton proposed an energy tax that was never adopted. In 2006, Boulder, Colorado passed the first U.S. municipal carbon tax. In 2007, the Carbon Tax Center was created to help initiate carbon taxes that many believe are imperative to reduce global warming. In 2008, the San Francisco Bay area adopted a carbon tax. In 2008, British Columbia implemented a carbon tax that is revenue neutral, by reducing corporate and income taxes at an equivalent rate.
Carbon markets allow individuals, companies, or nations to offset their greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint) by purchasing credits from other entities that have invested in reducing or sequestering emissions. Voluntary carbon markets (carbon offsets) involve investing in alternative projects such as solar or wind energy, methane capture, or reforestation. The much larger mandatory carbon market (cap and trade) implements the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, although the United States has not ratified the protocol (and therefore is not bound by it). Cap and trade programs provide economic incentives for reducing emissions. A limit (cap) is established on emissions from all sources, which are then able to trade with each other to determine which sources actually produce the allowed emissions. Wikipedia provides information on carbon footprints.
T. Boone Picken's Plan
T. Boone Pickens made his name, and a lot of oil money, in the 1970s and 1980s (Mesa Petroleum and other corporate deals). Now Pickens wants to wean the United States from our addiction to oil, with wind energy. He is building the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle. He has ordered 700 wind turbines from GE—the largest single wind turbine order ever. He proposes that we use natural gas for transportation and not for generating electricity. www.PickensPlan.com
Climate Change Messaging for Zoos and Aquariums
In 2007, five zoos and aquariums (including Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo) led a workshop on the challenges and opportunities for messaging climate change at a zoo or aquarium. Workshop notes (PDF, 28 kb) are available on the Association for Zoos and Aquariums website.
Climate Change Exhibit, Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego) designed an award-winning exhibit on global climate change—“Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge.” The exhibit and website are based on decades of cutting-edge research by scientists at Scripps.