So let's start the planning and action. Corrections sentencing will be affected big time through state and local budgets and impacts on economies. Not having to deal with it before and not knowing what to do now is no excuse.
Global warming is "unequivocal" and carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere commits the world to sea levels rising an average of up to 4.6 feet, the world's top climate experts warned Saturday in their most authoritative report to date.
According to the U.N. panel of scientists, whose latest report is a synthesis of three previous ones, enough carbon dioxide already has built up that it imperils islands, coastlines and a fifth to two-thirds of the world's species.
As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, residents of Asia's large cities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding, according to the report.
Europeans can expect extensive species loss, and North Americans will experience longer and hotter heat waves and greater competition for water, says the report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore this year.
The panel portrays the Earth hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace and warns of inevitable human suffering. It says emissions of carbon, mainly from fossil fuels, must stabilize by 2015 and go down after that.
In the best-case scenario, temperatures will keep rising from carbon already in the atmosphere, the report said. Even if factories were shut down today and cars taken off the roads, the average sea level will reach as high as 4.6 feet above that in the preindustrial period, or about 1850.
"We have already committed the world to sea level rise," the panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said. But if the Greenland ice sheet melts, the scientists said, they could not predict by how many feet the seas will rise, drowning coastal cities.
Climate change is here, they said, as witnessed by melting snow and glaciers, higher average temperatures and rising sea levels. If unchecked, global warming will spread hunger and disease, put further stress on water resources, cause fiercer storms and more frequent droughts, and could drive up to 70 percent of plant and animal species to extinction, according to the panel's report.
The report offered dozens of measures for avoiding the worst catastrophes if taken together — at a cost of less than 0.12 percent of the global economy annually until 2050. They ranged from switching to nuclear and gas-fired power stations, developing hybrid cars, using more efficient electrical appliances and managing cropland to store more carbon.
Ban said a new agreement should provide funding to help poor countries develop clean energy resources, adapt to climate conditions and give them the technology to help themselves.
He said he witnessed the devastation of climate change in disappearing glaciers of Antarctica, the deforested Amazon and under the ozone hole in Chile.
"These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie," said Ban. "But they are even more terrifying because they are real."
Here's the U.S. part:
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could grow more quickly in the next 50 years than in the previous half-century, even with technological advances and current energy-saving efforts, according to a new study by MIT's Richard Eckaus, the Ford International Professor of Economics, emeritus, and his co-author, Ian Sue Wing.
What's more, technology itself may be more the stuff that dreams are made on than the most available tool for reducing CO2 emissions or solving the global energy crisis, cautions Eckaus.
"There is no a priori reason to think technology has the potential for reducing energy use while meeting the tests of economics. It's politically unappetizing in the U.S., but in Europe, gas costs six dollars a gallon. Make energy more expensive: People will use less of it," Eckaus says.
"We found that, in spite of increasing energy prices, technological change has not been responsible for much reduction in energy use, and that it may have had the reverse effect," Eckaus says of their results.
The researchers studied the periods 1958 to 1996 and 1980 to 1996 and projected from 2000 to 2050. Based on their findings from the past 50 years and adjusted for a more realistic expectation for technological changes, they found that the rates of growth for energy use and emissions may accelerate from the historical rates of 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
"The rates of growth could be higher by a half percent or more, which becomes significant when compounded over fifty years," Eckaus says.
He acknowledges it has become counterintuitive to question technology's potential to solve the energy problem. But U.S. steelmaking illustrates how fossil fuel consumption can increase along with technological change: Steelmakers' furnaces are now electrical, reducing coal use at the plant. But coal generates some of the electricity that powers the factory furnace, resulting in more CO2 emissions.
"The net savings in this case comes from the use of scrap steel instead of iron ore, not from new furnace technology," Eckaus says.
In a new paper on a related topic, "Unemployment Effects of Climate Policy," (PDF) Eckaus and co-author Mustafa H. Babiker of Aramco model the negative effects on labor employment of policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. They then propose economic policies to counteract these effects.
"Climate change is a social and economic problem. If society wants to do something about it, it will have to bear the cost. It won't be free. It's an unprecedented social problem that requires a social response," Eckaus says.
According to Eckaus and Babiker, emissions restrictions policies generate the social problem of unemployment by reducing the demand in some industries for workers. The lowered output, in turn, would lead to reductions in the GNP by as much as 4 percent in the coming decades--a depressing effect on the U.S.
"If there were two policies, instead of just one--a counteracting labor market policy, as well as the emissions restrictions--the negative direct economic effects could be completely eliminated," they write.
In conversation, Eckaus suggests a labor market policy--a wage subsidy such as reduced labor taxes--to aid workers displaced from such industries as petroleum refining, automobile-making, metal fabricating and some chemical industries.
"Most studies assume labor and wages will adjust; some assume these will adjust quickly. But our study shows unemployment will go up, and adjustments won't necessarily follow quickly. We need an economic policy to address that," he says.
"We might expand and subsidize public transportation systems. We could launch a transportation-stamp program, to operate like food stamps: 'Get a stamp and get on a bus!'" he says.