The heat is on environmental groups and politicians to churn out proposals for stabilizing the planet's rising temperatures, but some environmentalists say existing plans to cool climate change are timid. Their criticism reveals a rift between two approaches: preserving the American way of life at the expense of quicker solutions, or changing the structure of US society to counter an unprecedented threat.
The dominant approach to human-induced global warming revolves around slow but dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century. The mainstream environmental community, along with a handful of politicians and corporations, is calling for various regulations and market-based actions to reduce greenhouse-gas output by 60 to 80% over the next 43 years.
This goal is based on what some scientists have estimated the United States needs to do to help the world limit the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The goal presupposes that some climate change is inevitable. In 2006, a government-commissioned report in the United Kingdom called the Stern Review said that the "worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced" by cutting greenhouse emissions to meet the two-degree goal.
Even if climate warming is kept to two degrees or lower, the report said there will still be "serious impacts" on "human life and on the environment." For instance, the report predicted the disappearance of drinking water in the South American Andes and parts of Southern Africa and the Mediterranean, up to 10 million people affected by yearly coastal flooding, and 10 to 40% of species on Earth going extinct.
Noting that "2050 is a long time away," David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said he wants to see action right away. "So what I want to know is, what are [environmental groups and politicians] going to do tomorrow?"
Morris and others who want to see more immediate and deeper action fear such incremental changes are downplaying the urgency of the situation. "They're really holding the whole movement back by setting their sights so low," said Brian Tokar, Biotechnology Project director at the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont.
The basic premise behind long-term plans for emissions reduction is that moving away from a fossil-fuel-based energy system will take time because market forces will take a while to make renewable technology...