A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Doom and dread vs. hope and healing this Earth Day

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., April 20, 21 or 22

Evidence is clear that the climate’s changing, people’s reliance on fossil fuels is contributing, and technology can’t be the only answer.

But as the 45th annual Earth Day occurs this Wednesday, pessimism can feel almost as threatening as smog, fracking and oil-train derailments.

Take ITER.


ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) for more than eight years has been touted as an answer to the world’s dependence on harmful fossil fuels. One of the most complicated machines ever devised, the publicly funded fusion-energy project – costing some $20 billion – is under construction in southern France. Backed by the United States and Russia, the European Union and China, India and Japan and South Korea, ITER is planned as a 11.5-ton, 100-foot structure that will hold a vacuum chamber where a super-hot “cloud” of heavy hydrogen will spin (faster than the speed of sound) as it’s bathed in radiation and uncharged particles so intense they could melt a train car in minutes. The cloud will reach temperatures 10 times as hot as the Sun – more than 360 million degrees Fahrenheit). That means no physical substance can hold it, so ITER will suspend the super-heated cloud within the largest network of superconducting magnets on the planet. This mini-Sun will float under immense pressure within ITER’s otherwise empty void.

What could go wrong?

From ISIS to incompetence, danger lurks there like a loaded pistol in a toddler’s bed.

Closer to home, the Keystone XL pipeline looms, planned to bisect the country carrying Canadian tar-sand oil to export – a wily serpent tempting us with the false, forbidden fruit of cheap energy without jeopardizing the environment.

“Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening,” said climate scientist James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama [where] he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar-sands reserves ‘regardless of what we do.’

“If Canada proceeds – and we do nothing – it will be game over for the climate,” Hansen wrote.

Already, recent extreme effects of a changing climate are as ominous as they are obvious: record snow and record cold, floods and severe storms and droughts;

A study released March 2 by researchers led by Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University Earth scientist, said, “California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries.”


Despite human folly, hope springs forth like blooms and blossoms in the fields and yards. Everyday people marched by the thousands in New York City, and also Lima, Peru. There, the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP20) this winter concluded with key elements for an agreement setting 2050 as the worldwide goal for zero net emissions, and the U.S. government is helping persuade developing countries to partner – to resist the temptation to burn whatever’s cheap and easy in favor of generating energy in clean and sustainable ways – with a $3 billion investment in the Green Climate Fund helping those economically struggling nations. And a campaign to divest holdings from fossil-fuel corporations is gaining momentum, promising to resemble the effective anti-apartheid efforts 30 years ago.

Also, some science deniers, anti-regulation conservatives and interests sometimes resistant to change (like insurance companies and the Defense Department) are conceding that the crisis is not only real, but dire.

It’s “a rather extreme position to say that we ought to allow dangerous pollutants to destroy the only planet we know of that can completely sustain human life,” wrote Justin Haskins, an editor with the conservative Heartland Institute, in Human Events.

Scientists promise that the situation is not yet hopeless.

The United Nations’ Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report written by 800 scientists from 80 countries summarizing findings from some 30,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers: “Human influence on the climate system is clear. The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts; and we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”

Do we have the will?

“It is no secret that the Earth is in trouble and that we humans are to blame,” says environmental journalist Richard Schiffman. “Just knowing these grim facts, however, won’t get us very far. We have to transform this knowledge into a deep passion to change course. But passion does not come primarily from the head; it is a product of the heart.”

[PICTURED: Illustration from]

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