Newspapers issue strong warning on climate

Getting ready for the Copenhagen climate talks

HAMBURG, GERMANY I’m staying with distant kin, for a few days, and woke up this morning to find my host had placed a newspaper editorial on the breakfast table. It’s from a Bavarian newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The same let’s-get-tough-on-climate editorial ran in 55 other newspapers in 45 nations. Among English-language papers, the Miami Herald was apparently the sole U.S. outlet.

“Newspapers have never done anything like this before but they have never had to cover a story like this before,” said Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, a British newspaper, in an explanatory piece. “No individual newspaper editorial could hope to influence the outcome of Copenhagen but I hope the combined voice of 56 major papers speaking in 20 languages will remind the politicians and negotiators gathering there what is at stake – and persuade them to rise above the rivalries and inflexibility that have stood in the way of a deal.”

While some editorial voices in the States have raised support for domestic engagement in global-climate protection, the current page-one commentary is longer and stronger than any I’ve seen to date in U.S. papers. It argues what has previously been reported on forests’ worth of newsprint in recent years: that Earth is warming, that human activities have played a substantial role, and that “so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.” It acknowledges on this, the opening day of the UN Climate Change Conference, that few attendees expect a treaty will culminate from the upcoming fortnight of discussion, debates and compromise. But it argues that substantial progress toward engineering the bare bones of such a treaty is within the negotiators’ reach. And that they must grasp what’s within reach.

Written by the Guardian staff, it has strong words for the U.S. bottleneck on global action – one that began with a failure to enact strong domestic climate-protection legislation and a refusal to adopt the Kyoto Protocol. And it says what most Westerners don’t want to hear. That insuring – if not ensuring – the health of the environment and its stewards (i.e. humanity) will take money, creativity and concerted action around the globe. It takes a no pain, no gain attitude. Sure, we will feel some pain in coming years, it says, but that’s to save the planet from long and dire agony in the next few centuries.

Frankly, I don’t understand. We buy insurance to save our families from the threat of catastrophic ruin. Why would we not buy insurance for our planet – our life-support system – in the name of pollution controls, energy conservation and reforestation? Many of these measures would actually save us money in the long run (if life-cycle accounting were conducted), helping subsidize other climate “insurance” policies. So, I would think such a strategy is a no brainer.

Procrastination is not a sound policy. Nor is adopting just any change. We need to be smart about how we spend our resources. But we in the North and especially in the West must accept the need to invest in insurance promptly. And to share some of our collective largesse with the have-nots. After all, much of our nations’ financial wealth has been accrued over the past century by exploiting more than our fair share of Earth’s resources and spewing more than our fair share of climate-altering pollution.

The argument should not be over whether we make changes, but instead about how to get the most climate protection for the buck. Resource thrift should become what Americans brag about, not our conspicuous consumption.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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