Ratcliffe’s heartless statement (Chairman of a top-6 global emitter)

August 14, 2008 at 4:22 pm | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Global warming | Leave a comment
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Of course “Earth can adapt to global warming”.  The question is to what degree “Life On Earth can adapt to global warming” and how that adaptation affects humanity.

On Bloomberg today:

Southern Co.’s Ratcliffe Says Earth Can Adapt to Global Warming

By Jim Efstathiou Jr.

Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) — Climate change is no cause for alarm and the U.S. should avoid global warming measures that harm the economy, said David Ratcliffe, chief executive officer of the biggest U.S. electricity producer.

Ratcliffe, chairman of Atlanta-based Southern Co., the world’s sixth-largest emitter of carbon, said the earth has cycled through warming and cooling periods throughout its history. The 0.76 degree Celsius (1.37 degrees Fahrenheit) rise since the start of industrialization is manageable, he said in an interview yesterday.

“I don’t believe there’s an impending catastrophe in front of us,” Ratcliffe said. “Certainly there are impacts and certainly there are changes that occur. The environment has an ability to adapt to that.”

Ratcliffe’s view is at odds with the consensus of scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year warned that rising temperatures would raise sea levels, cause droughts and floods to occur more frequently, and intensify storms, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk.

The panel said global emissions reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent are needed by 2050 if Earth is to stand a chance of limiting the average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. Warming above that could threaten world food supplies and make some species extinct.

“Their intentions are good, but I think their enthusiasm outstrips the logic of this situation,” Ratcliffe said. “We have time to do this without upsetting the economy.”

Policy makers should balance new rules on power plant emissions with technologies that can remove harmful pollutants from coal and natural gas, he said. A Senate bill to reduce greenhouse gases 66 percent by 2050 that failed in June was “too aggressive,” Ratcliffe said.

Changing Realities

“We underestimate our ability as people and our ability from an environmental standpoint to adapt to changing realities,” Ratcliffe said.

Burning fossil fuel generates 3.5 million tons of emissions worldwide every hour, helping create a warming effect that “already threatens our climate,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a June 6 report. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Southern’s power plants emit 173 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to data compiled by the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based research group. The company’s 3,300-megawatt Scherer power plant in Georgia is the largest U.S. coal plant and also the dirtiest, pumping out 25.3 million tons of the gas a year, more than all Brazil’s power plants combined, according to the center’s database, Carbon Monitoring for Action.

Cheap Coal

Southern’s customers pay about 15 percent less than the national average for electricity because of coal’s lower cost, Ratcliffe said.

“It’s not helpful to have the largest utility in the South saying we don’t have to do anything about global warming,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Ratcliffe needs to be held accountable for being one of the leaders in the United States that have held up action on global warming.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: August 14, 2008 11:18 EDT  

The point about adapting that people like Ratcliffe seem conveniently able to forget is that adaptation assumes life continues, certainly with a pleasant degree of affordable comfort and preferably with unimaginable luxuries ahead.

Our way of life does still depend on the natural world around us, whether we are aware of it, accept it, and like it, or not. Therefore, if we are at all concerned about preserving an economy, it had better not be at the expense of living things (biodiversity).

Death occurs when a living organism is pushed beyond the point of adaptation, and extinction is when all organisms of a particular species have been pushed beyond their limits.

Unfortunately, what some powerful people (such as Ratcliffe) do not allow themselves to consider, when they dismiss the need to take significant steps to combat climate change, is this:

Although we personally will survive because we can afford whatever healthcare may be required to enable us to live to a ripe old age, and (presumably) we can easily ignore deaths of strangers in other countries, there is a web of dependencies in the natural world that has taken millennia to develop but could be destroyed in a few short human generations if we carry on with business as usual (i.e. increasing rates of greenhouse gas emissions).

Temperature increases alone are not necessarily going to be the direct cause of death of any particular individual, certainly if such rises happen steadily over an extended time period (talking centuries, i.e. more than a human lifetime). However, the anthropogenic factor is now such that we humans with our industrial activity and land-use changes have very likely been causing temperatures to rise not just to levels but at rates heretofore unknown in human existence (not necessarily unknown in Earth’s geological history). There is no significant respite to this trend line in sight for many decades (because of the backlog of effects from increased concentrations of atmospheric emissions already in the pipeline), and the speed of changes with observable impacts in the natural world is increasing.  Therefore, we really DO have to act NOW to stand a chance of mitigating the very worst impacts for our children and grandchildren … even if we are not around to applaud our own efforts!

Climate change is not a fairy tale where we will all live happily everafter whatever harm we do along the road to happiness. Furthermore, I am not even close to an alarmist’s position on the topic of climate change. However, there is a choice for each and every one of us. The question some influential people (like Ratcliffe) would be well advised to ask themselves is this:

Would we prefer to die in isolated luxury, having preserved the economy (despite pesky climate-related challenges) to the extent we are able during the remaining decades of our own lives for our own benefit, comforted in our final days solely and exclusively by the material wealth we’ve stored up here on Earth, ignoring the non-material needs and welfare of our children, grandchildren and descendants, disregarding any disrespect they may feel towards us?  Or not?

Here ends my sermon 😉

We may be unable to persuade people and change their beliefs.  However, we can certainly work together to prevent Ratcliffe’s understandable misunderstandings from influencing climate and energy policy to a degree that is disproportionate to his selective knowledge of the climate situation.


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