Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has joined other mayors from around the country in advocating for the city of Madison to steer clear of investing any city funds in fossil fuel industries, and said he intends to introduce a resolution that encourages the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County, the University of Wisconsin, the State of Wisconsin, and other local governments to join the City in these efforts and divest their own holdings from fossil fuel companies.
In a news release posted on the city’s website last week “Mayor Soglin Urges Madison to Continue Divestment from Fossil Fuels”, the mayor says the fossil fuel divestment movement has already spread to 300 colleges and universities and is spreading to faith communities as well. Last November, Mayor Mike McGinn in Seattle became the first mayor in the country to commit to keep city funds out of the fossil fuel industry and look into ways to divest the city’s pension fund.
The divestment campaign is coordinated by a coalition of groups led by 350.org, an international climate campaign headed by author Bill McKibben who spoke in Madison last November. The effort is modeled on the 1980s divestment campaigns that targeted investments in apartheid South Africa.
On the 6-month anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm that hit the Eastern United States last fall and is now being blamed on global warming, U. S. lawmakers in the House of Representative and the Senate rushed a bill through the U.S. Congress last week that allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to withdraw its furloughing of many air traffic controllers and other airport workers around the country. This action removed a major bottleneck that was significantly delaying aviation travel in the U.S. last week.
The furloughs were fallout from the $85 billion in automatic-across-the-board spending cuts this spring. With passage of the bill, the FAA will move as much as $253 million within its budget to areas that will allow it to prevent the reduced operations and staffing. The spending cuts had forced the FAA to furlough 13,000 air traffic controllers beginning last week Sunday, among its total of 47,000 employees. About 40% of last week’s flight delays in the U.S. were a direct result of too few controllers in towers at airports around the country, said the FAA. The country’s commercial airlines reportedly resumed normal operations as of late Sunday night. I question whether this was really the right thing for the country to do.
Although White House press secretary Jay Carney said the President still intends to sign the bill, President Obama blasted lawmakers in his weekly address posted Saturday for insisting on spending cuts, and then maneuvering to redress the ones that applied to them: “Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted on these cuts finally realized that they actually applied to them too,” said President Obama. “So Congress passed a temporary fix. A band aid. But these cuts are scheduled to keep falling across other parts of the government that provide vital services for the American people. And we can’t just keep putting band aids on every cut.” (huffingtonpost.com).
Meanwhile, also last week, officials from coastal communities along the Eastern seaboard sat down for the first time to discuss Hurricane Sandy consequences and how to best protect their residents from sea level rise. The meeting, which took place in New York City on Wednesday, was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC). The nonprofit science advocacy group released a report on sea level rise on Monday.
According to the USC report, rising sea level is what linked Sandy directly to global warming. “Coastal Cities Confront Global Warming-Induced Sea Level Rise” was also posted last Saturday. “Over the last century, the ocean off the New York coast rose 13 to 16 inches, making flooding from Sandy a lot worse”, said Elliot Negin, USC’s director of news and commentary. Hurricane Sandy triggered an estimated $60 billion in estimated losses in New York and New Jersey alone, according to the report.
“We got a glimpse of our collective future,” said Joe Vietri, director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (COE) coastal and storm risk management program, during a press briefing. “Clearly we know climate change and sea level rise are right here. We are living it right now.”
For some participants, such as Stephen Marks, Hoboken, New Jersey’s assistant business administrator, Hurricane Sandy erased any doubts in his town about global warming. “The debate about climate change is essentially over,” said Marks, whose 2-square-mile municipality of 50,000 was overwhelmed by 500 million gallons of Hudson River water. “Hurricane Sandy settled that for, I would say, a majority of the residents of our city.”
For others, such as Broward County, Florida, Mayor Kristin Jacobs, Hurricane Sandy was just an extreme example of the same old same old. “We’ve been dealing with the effects of climate change for quite some time,” she said. Broward County, she pointed out, established a climate change “compact” with three other South Florida counties in 2009 to address chronic flooding and other global warming impacts. Based on local trends and global projections the USC says the compact — which collectively represents 5.5 million residents in three Florida counties — anticipates sea level along Florida’a coast will rise 3 to 7 inches by 2030, and 9 to 24 inches by 2060!
Vietri, who is overseeing the Army Corps of Engineers’ Hurricane Sandy study, bemoaned the fact that despite greater public awareness of climate change and sea level rise: “You still have people by the truckload moving into high hazard coastal areas”. It doesn’t make much sense, and ultimately all Americans will end up paying a good share of the total cost.
Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial airliners and other greenhouse gas sources in the U.S. are significantly adding to the warming atmosphere and seas (the latter which is also becoming more acidic due to warming), according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Yet people and businesses from all over the U.S. (as well as from most other developed countries) continue to travel using motorized fossil fuel burning technologies (planes, automobiles, trucks, trains, etc.), burn fossil fuels and electricity derived from burning fossil fuels (natural gas and coal), without paying serious attention to what the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists have been telling us for a number of years now: that global warming is now happening, that it has been going on for a number of years already, and that it is getting worse.
We are adding measurably to the growing stockpile of greenhouse gases now mounting in the earth’s atmosphere. For example, the concentration of the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide (CO2), has increased to 399 parts per million (ppm), as compared to the 350 ppm that existed in the atmosphere prior to the late 19th century, before people and industries began significantly burning fossil fuels for energy, heating, lighting, air conditioning, locomotion, air travel, shipping, auto/truck travel, etc.. Furthermore, scientists have also been saying the consequence of warming the atmosphere and oceans is more and more warming, increasing the likelyhood of more extreme weather events, potentially much worse than Hurricane Sandy and this spring’s flooding.
It should also be noted that carbon dioxide’s residence time in the atmosphere is long – roughly 100 years or more, on average, so the volume of it in the atmosphere continues to grow, even if what is emitted declines, so the less fossil fuels humans end up burning each year the better as far as reducing the global warming threat goes. Other greenhouse gas emissions from jet aircraft travel include HFCs, methane and nitrous oxide, which are all significantly more powerful warming gases than is carbon dioxide, and remain in the atmosphere for years and years. So the less flying that is done in the U.S. and elsewhere on the planet, the better we can avoid more and worsening effects such as those caused by Hurricane Sandy and the rising sea levels.