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Lynne Plambeck: Change US policies before it’s too late

Posted: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Scientists say that a frog will indeed leap from a slowly heating pot — tales to the contrary are simply false.

But this tale seems all too true when applied to the human race.

Since the 1970s, scientists have warned of increasing global temperatures due to what they then termed “the greenhouse effect.” That is, gases trapped in our atmosphere, like the humidity in a green house, make the temperature of the Earth rise.

In the ‘90s, the term changed to “global warming,” but it meant the same thing. Now, as ice sheets the size of Manhattan break off Greenland and fall into the sea, the West burns, and cattle and crops die in the worst drought in hundreds of years, will we continue with business as usual?

The temperature in the pot is rising.

There are so many ways we could take action. Unfortunately many solutions are blocked by corporate interests.

For instance, rooftop solar, the most logical solution to energy generation in the sunny Southwest, would interfere with profits of large, private energy firms who make their money by transmitting energy over long distances, building huge dams and nuclear generating plants, transfer stations and power lines.

None of this may be available in the future. The Fukushima nuclear disaster, its human tragedy and the enormous cleanup cost, has dampened society’s appetites for more nuclear power.

Part of the cause of the massive electric blackout in India this week was placed on reduced hydroenergy generation, a result of drought-related low water levels in the dams.

As water resources diminish in continuing drought, hydroenergy generation will be reduced in the West, as well.

Every time I see the flat-roofed industrial areas that make up much of Los Angeles, I think of Germany, a country that generates much of its power from rooftop solar.

Extra energy is fed back into the grid, reducing the need for new power plants and eliminating those ugly power lines that can cause wildfires when the winds take off.

But Germany’s energy company is publicly held. It is not concerned with the short-term profits of stockholders, but rather with long-term service to the nation.

It’s difficult to make long-term investments that will only benefit the community when the financial structure of the company is based on short-term profits and benefits to a much smaller group of stock holders.

So the temperature in the pot continues to rise.

The same problem goes for the automotive industry. We had the opportunity to begin the move to electric cars long ago, as mandated by our air quality board.

But General Motors crushed all its electric EV1s several years ago in an attempt to stamp out the growing heresy of a move away from fossil fuels. (See the documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car” for a great explanation of the politics behind the sordid affair.)

That was not only a mistake for our nation, but it was also a mistake for GM stockholders. It allowed Toyota to fill the gap and supply the growing public demand for hybrids.

Even bull-headed bullfrogs will jump from the pot, according to scientists, but apparently not bull-headed humans.

Then there is our lifestyle. We assume we will always have an abundance of water and food. As temperatures rise and the human population continues to explode exponentially, this will not be true.

We must accept that Earth’s resources are finite and treat them as such. That means conserving water, forests and rivers, and being careful about where and how we build.

Much of turning down the heat will require concerted and timely bipartisan government action to succeed. In our nation, this seems like an impossible dream. It seems like we are completely incapable of jumping out of the boiling pot.

Of course, individuals can still make a difference. Walking or cycling whenever possible, recycling, conserving water and electricity are all important actions that, if taken on a nationwide scale, will help turn down the heat.

But it will take some really big structural changes to our transpiration and energy-generation systems to allow us to leap from the pot. Is our government up to the task? I urge you all to ask this question as you consider your vote in upcoming elections.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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