MACOMB -- Climate change is occurring more rapidly than originally predicted and unless checked threatens life as we know it, Pultizer Prize-winning environmental journalist Steve Curwood told a Western Illinois University audience on Nov. 29.
In an informal talk to a large audience, Curwood, who is host of National Public Radio’s environmental program Living on Earth, expressed hope that people on the planet will be able to set aside differences to manage global climate change. That's a more accurate term than 'global warming,' he said.
Katrina, the California drought and fires and the typhoon in Bangladesh are a few of the Earth’s reactions to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he said. “By 2020 the Amazon will be a grassland if we don’t act,“ he said.
Human beings, who are linked by evolution to all other life forms on the planet, must act together to save the Earth. Otherwise, “we will not be able to feed ourselves,” he said.
We‘re really messing with our ability to grow food. Social disruption will follow.”
He envisioned pressure on Midwestern water in the Great Lakes. “They’re coming here, folks,” he said.
As the poles melt and sea levels rise, millions of people will be refugees. “How about a world full of environmental refugees?“ he asked, adding that 100 million people could be displaced.
“We already see war in Darfur based on not enough water to go around,“ he said.
Curwood structured his talk as a dialogue with the audience, and when someone mentioned corrupt politicians, he responded “we corrupted them“ by allowing a political system to develop that responds only to money.
The fossil fuel industry has the money to control politics, he said.
“Most people would rather go through a session with the IRS than run for (public) office,“ he said. That’s understandable, he said because office holders lose all privacy.
“That joint you smoked in high school -- (or) you’re not getting along with your wife and they start the impeachment process,“ he said.
One person alone cannot make change, but people acting together in the U.S. and in other nations, have changed what seemed like intractable situations, he said.
He mentioned the American Revolution, the fall of Apartheid in South Africa and the collapse of communism as examples.
“We have to find the commonality. We want to keep this planet livable for human beings. We‘ve been able to do it in the past.”
Working with other nations to save the atmosphere can bring peace and prosperity to the planet, he said. Today though conflicts rage, no sovereign nation is at war, because “war is out of date,” he said.
“Israel tried it in Lebanon and look what happened to them. We haven‘t gotten what we wanted out of Iraq. (Instead we have) the depleted dollar, high gas prices and a lot of sadness,” he said.
“We have to change the whole energy regime,“ he said, and fortunes will be made and jobs generated as the world switches to sustainable sources such as geothermal, wind and solar power. “We get economic development and we get to keep the planet.”
The next president of the US will have only a few years to “get it right,” he said, before change is irreversible. The last three presidents “have done zip,“ he said. “We’re all to blame.“
Curwood confessed, “I don’t live a carbon neutral lifestyle. I can’t unless we’re doing this together. Unless we act together it won’t happen.“
Asked which presidential candidate is the “greenest,“ Curwood replied that only three candidates of all those of both parties attended a recent environmental forum in California, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinch “Who do you think will act?“ he asked. “It’s risky to take on oil companies. It’s risky to take on coal. The benefits will not pay off during that person’s time in office. (It means) asking people to sacrifice,” he said.
“Who has the most moral character or ability to lead, instead of sticking a finger in the wind?” he asked.
Curwood, who has spent three decades as a journalist, recalled his college days when he could work during the summer to pay his tuition and live comfortably. He had a union job, he said. Today’s equivalent in pay would be $36,000 for a summer job.
“We need to stay out of the war business,” he said. “Vietnam and now Iraq is lowering our standard of living.”
Curwood who lives in Boston mentioned the lower cost of living in the Midwest. “You guys here are living in the promised land where you can buy a house for $100,000,“ he said.
“Global warming is a symptom. We’ve stopped caring for each other. We need to turn things around so we can have the kind of prosperity I grew up with that the generation before me created” by sacrificing, he said.
Asked about over-population, Curwood responded that people should be encouraged to have fewer children, especially in the US where each child uses so much of the world’s resources. “You can’t look at population without looking at consumption patterns,“ he said.
“To me, abortion is a personal matter and up to the woman to decide. We made it a government matter,“ with policies that deny family planning to developing nations, he said.
Asked about nuclear energy, Curwood said nuclear is preferable to coal, and technology has made it safer. But it is inferior to renewable resources which are more “cost efficient,” he said.
He received a standing ovation after the 90 minute talk.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Update: For a terrific story on painless energy efficiency to stop carbon dioxide emissions, see The New York Times.
Update 2: Think global warming/aka climate change is exaggerated? See this New York Times piece on disappearing bird species.