Justine Burt
August 22, 2004

SLIDE 1: Gandhi quote

One of my favorite quotes from Gandhi is: "All truth passes through 3 stages: first it is ridiculed, next it is violently opposed, and finally it is accepted as self-evident." I pose for your consideration the truth that is currently passing thru this gauntlet.

Among serious scientists, there is international consensus that humans are causing global climate change, that this is the most profound environmental challenge of our time. Except perhaps for nuclear war, no force has more potential to damage the Earth's web of life. We need to act now.

Some energy companies vociferously oppose this idea. In contrast, an international community of scientists, European and Asian countries and some of the more enlightened oil companies accept this statement as truth.

SLIDE 2: Earth picture

Today I will present information about:

1. the evidence for taking global warming seriously,
2. arguments against it
3. energy efficiency steps we can take
4. the benefits of acting now

Let's start with the science that everyone agrees on. Earth's atmosphere acts like a greenhouse. It traps water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that keep our planet warm enough to sustain life. This insulation absorbs infrared radiation emitted by the earth's surface. Without these greenhouse gases, the average world temperature would be -1 degree Fahrenheit instead of a comfortable 57 degrees Fahreneheit. Only small amounts of greenhouse gas are necessary to create this effect.

SLIDE 3: 1,000 years of temperatures

These are graphs of average global temperatures. We have thermometer data since 1860 and that's in the first graph. In the second graph you can see the average global temperature back to 1,000 AD that scientists have been able to piece together by studying tree rings and ice core samples. You can see the spike in average global temperatures in the last century.

SLIDE 4: 2x and 4x carbon in atmosphere (increasing temperatures)

Since pre-industrial times the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 30%. The Princeton Geophysical Fluid Dynamics lab has done computer modeled for temperature increases worldwide in the case of a doubling and quadrupling of CO2 since pre-industrial times. You can see in the quadrupling scenario temperature increases in the Northern hemisphere are in many areas projected to increase by 20-25 degrees. That's a roasted world.

SLIDE 5: 2x and 4x carbon in the atmosphere (reduced soil moisture)

Here are models for a reduction in soil moisture under doubling and quadrupling of CO2 levels which would threaten world agricultural productivity. Look at the 50-60% soil moisture reductions predicted for the areas where the US grows most of its crops: the Midwest and California.

SLIDE 6: World energy demand

To get a sense of how much carbon humans have emitted over the last 140 years, look at the area under the curve. Now compare it to the amount of fossil fuels Royal Dutch Shell projects the world will use over the next 55 years. Without getting too complicated here, think about molecules of natural gas, petroleum and coal. They're basically just chains of hydrogen and carbon. Hence the name hydrocarbons. Natural gas has one carbon for each hydrogen. Petroleum has 2 carbons for each hydrogen. And coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel because it has 4 carbons for each hydrogen. This gives you a sense of how much carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere in the coming decades relative to the past.

SLIDE 7: Scenarios for California's future

Global warming may benefit some parts of the world. For example, Canada may have a longer growing season. Graham, how do you think Canadians would feel about that? Water skiing could replace snow skiing in Colorado.

A new study about the effects of global warming was released this week. 19 scientists from 12 different institutions worked together on climate modeling for different parts of the world. Here's what they predicte for California over the next century.

Optimistic scenario (assumes greenhouse gas emissions are curtailed):
- Statewide temperatures would rise 4-6 degrees F
- Los Angeles would suffer 4x more heatwaves and 2-3x more heat-related deaths
- 50-75% of state's high mountain forests would disappear
- Snow pack that feeds California reservoirs would shrink 30-70%

In their pessimistic scenario, the snow pack would shrink 75-90% if we continued business as usual with carbon emissions.

In generally, with global warming, rising global temperatures will cause:
- polar ice to melt
- sea levels to rise
- more moisture in the atmosphere will mean increased storms for some areas
- extreme drought for other areas

Here are some examples of how our climate is changing already.

SLIDE 8: Wildfile

This is a picture from Colorado's biggest wildfire ever in June 2002. Sustained drought makes wildfires more likely.

SLIDE 9: Beach Eroding

This is Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia. You can see they're rebuilding the beach. Beach erosion puts a huge drain on local, state, and federal government resources to reconstruct some of the country's favorite vacation spots.

SLIDE 10: Receding Water Levels

Water levels in Lake Michigan receded in summer 2000. Social impacts of such severe conditions include reduced food availability, compromised water quality, and conflicts around water rights.

SLIDE 11: Coral Reefs

Ocean temperatures have been warming over the last century, and water that is only 2 to 3 degrees F warmer than normal has been linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

SLIDE 12: Mosquito

As the Earth heats up, the risk of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, dengue fever and West Nile Virus are expected to rise.

SLIDE 13: Hoboken Path Flooding

This subway connects Hoboken, NJ and Manhattan. This kind of flooding will occur much more frequently as rising sea levels generate higher storm surges and more extreme weather events cause more floods of this magnitude.

SLIDE 14: Alaska Ice

These satellite photos of Glacier Bay, Alaska were taken by NASA. Renowned naturalist John Muir saw this area blanketed by glaciers in 1879 and wrote, 'I saw the berg-filled expanse of the bay... and the imposing fronts of five huge glaciers ... A solitude of ice and snow and newborn rocks, dim, dreary, mysterious.'

SLIDE 15: Polar Bear

Polar bears in the southern range hunt for much of their prey on sea ice. With global climate change there are shorter hunting seasons now that sea ice melts earlier in the spring and freezes later in the fall.

SLIDE 16: Petroleum Companies

The touchstone for how seriously we should take global warming lies in the reaction by the petroleum industry, companies that have a vested interest in fossil fuel burning. Let's see what they're saying.

Royal Dutch/Shell chairman Ron Oxburgh has said "We urgently need to capture emissions of the greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide. No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are pumping out at present ... with consequences that we really can't predict but are probably not good."

There is now consensus that rising GHG concentrations can be attributed to human activities such as deforestation, new forms of agriculture, and the use of hydrocarbon fuels. The challenge is not just to understand climate change: it is to do something about it; to find a viable solution to the energy paradox.

ExxonMobil's chairman Lee Raymond: "We in ExxonMobil do not believe that the science required to establish this linkage between fossil fuels and warming has been demonstrated."

Shell Oil and British Petroleum are investing in renewable energy technologies so they can be part of the graceful transition to the next energy economy. Exxon Mobil, some other oil companies and coal companies are waging an aggressive and persistent campaign to cast doubt in the public's mind about the science of global climate change.

It's rational for them to want to fend off criticism. But the way they're going about it misleads the public. Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer prize winning author, just published his second book on global warming. He writes about a top television network editor who is reluctant to run stories about global warming because a previous story had "triggered a barrage of complaints from the Global Climate Coalition" a fossil fuel industry lobbying group "to our top executives at the network." As long as top TV execs allow themselves to be intimidated by these groups, the public will continue to misunderstand these issues.

SLIDE 17: Exxon Mobil's campaign

In 1998, Exxon devised a plan to hold off action on global warming. The strategy was outlined in an internal memo, titled Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan, which promised, "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom" for "average citizens" and "the media." The company will recruit and train new scientists who lack a "history of visibility in the climate debate" and pay them to develop materials depicting supporters of action to cut greenhouse gas emissions as "out of touch with reality." ExxonMobil has since poured millions of dollars into spreading its message worldwide. Here's where some of that money went.

SLIDE 18: Grants from Exxon Mobil

You can see that they've made millions of dollars of grants to several organizations who have targeted the top 20 media outlets and made themselves available to the press to provide "balance" on the climate change issue. The more you read about global climate change, the more you will see these same names over and over again, like Nils-Axel Morner and Willie Soon.

I'd like to share with you the 5 most commonly used rebuttals to climate change science.

SLIDE 19: Myth 1

Myth 1: "The Earth has warmed rapidly in the past and society and ecosystems have been able to adapt."
Truth: It's true that the Earth has experienced rapid warming in some places at the end of the last glacial period. But for the last 10,000 years global climate has been relatively stable. During this period, agriculture and civilization have developed and world population has grown tremendously. Many of the most populated zones are low-lying coastal areas. Furthermore, many ecosystems and species that are already threatened by pollution and habitat conversion may be pushed over the edge by climate shifts.

SLIDE 20: Myth 2

Myth: "It is hard enough to predict weather a few days from now. How can we have any confidence about climate projections 100 years from now?"
Truth: Weather and climate are different. Weather is the temperature, precipitation and storms on a given day in a particular place. Climate is the long-term average over a large area such as a continent or the entire Earth. Averages over whole regions for a long period of time are easier to estimate. For example, in California it will generally be warmer in August than in January.

SLIDE 21: Myth 3

Myth: "Human activities contribute just a small fraction of carbon to the atmosphere, an amount too small to affect climate."
Truth: Over millions of years, plants and animals lived and died and were compressed to form fossil fuels. Now we're pumping out and burning this carbon that's been sequestered. Before the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon emitted by natural sources was roughly equal to the amount of carbon absorbed by trees and the ocean. Now the amount emitted is double what nature can absorb. There is international scientific consensus that most of the warming over the last 50 years is due to human activities not natural causes. The debate that currently rages is about exactly how much the average global temperature will rise and exactly how that will impact climate across the Earth, not whether or it is happening.

SLIDE 22: Myth 4

Myth: "The average temperate increase projected for the next century, 2.5 to 10.4 degrees F seems so small, smaller than the daily temperature fluctuations for most major cities and hardly cause for concern."
Truth: While daily temperatures can have enormous swings, global average temperature is remarkably constant. Global average temperatures are calculated by taking temperatures from across the Earth. Scientists who have studied ice core samples, tree rings and pollen have learned that between 1000 AD and 1900 AD, average global temperature changed by only a few tenths of a degree. So a 2 to 10 degree temperature change could mean climate change impacts bigger than anything that has happened in the last 10,000 years. Keep in mind that at the end of the last Ice Age when North America was buried under 1,000s of feet of ice, the average global temperature was 10 degrees F cooler than it is now.

SLIDE 23: Myth 5

Myth: "Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere fairly quickly so if we find out later that there is a problem, we can wait to act once it becomes obvious that there is a problem."
Truth: Carbon dioxide is produced in huge quantities and persists in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. If we stopped producing CO2 today, it would take more than a century for CO2 levels to fall back down to pre-industrial times. We need to act now to avoid increasingly dangerous consequences of climate change in the future.

The thing about global climate change that I wonder about is whether it will disproportionately affect those less able to protect themselves: the 3 billion people who live on less than $2/day, the young and the elderly, the marginal ecosystems and species already pushed to the brink of extinction. I put these questions to you: do you agree and if so, is that OK? Do we have an obligation to do something about it?

OK, Here's a question. The person who gets this right wins a prize. Which country contributes 25% of the world's greenhouse gases? That's right! The U.S. Here's your prize: a full-spectrum energy-efficient fluorescent lamp you can install in your house to reduce your energy usage.

SLIDE 24: Pie charts (Greenhouse gases)

The US is virtually the only advanced nation in the world that fails to recognize the severity of this growing crisis. The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty in which countries agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions a certain level below 1990 levels. The U.S. has signed it but more importantly, not ratified it, which means it's not binding. The interesting thing is that multi-national corporations like Dupont and Dow are voluntarily reducing their emissions to comply with European mandates because they do business there. And in the process they are saving millions of dollars. So you can see how effective it is to have laws in place. John McCain and Joseph Leiberman have co-authored a bill on climate change that is currently working its way through Congress. But right now it doesn't have the votes to pass.

In the absence of leadership from the executive branch of our government, it is up to those of us at the grassroots level to make a difference.

Look at the sectors that contribute greenhouse gases. What do we have control over? Transportation sector: 27% If carpooling and taking mass transit are not an option for you, clearly buying the most fuel efficient car that meets your needs is the biggest step you could take. Look at the residential sector, that's 8%. The electricity generation sector contributes 33%. This is a place where we could reduce our CO2 emissions if we choose to mount solar panels on our roof and generate our own electricity.

SLIDE 25: Pie charts (Energy use at home)

When you are looking for energy efficiency opportunities at home, first consider where it is possible not to use energy at all. What do you really need? Is a clothesline an option instead of a dryer 6 months out of the year? You all probably already conserve energy by running the dishwasher only when it's full.

Consider the concept of energy efficiency - having more of the electricity or natural gas do the job you need it to do and not what you don't need it to do.

Heating and Cooling: Leaky air ducts and single paned windows allow heat and cooling to escape from the places you want them to be.

Water heating: It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Water heaters should be wrapped with insulation so the water doesn't lose the heat your natural gas or electricity worked so hard for.

Lighting: People don't want incandescent light bulbs per se, they want light for tasks such as reading. Scorching hot light bulbs are a sign that most of the electricity is being lost as waste heat.

Motors: Are there any motors on your property than are bigger than are needed to do the job? Question: The EPA put out a statistic that if all motors in the US were energy efficient, properly sized to the job at hand, or adjustable speed, by what % could we reduce our energy use in this country? That's right, 25%!

Keep in mind that water conservation is important too because pumping water around the state and to our houses uses a lot of energy.

I propose a Carbon Emission Reduction Program for our congregation. I'd like to find 10 families that want to participate. I'll do most of the work and we'll have fun. Through this program we will determine how many tons of carbon dioxide we emit to the atmosphere and work together to reduce it over the next year. All you need to do is look at your PG&E bills for this September and next, and track how much gasoline you use this September and next then plug them into this carbon calculator my husband Chris did for the Loma Prieta Sierra Club website. Those who are interested can sign up with me after the service. I propose one initial meeting at our house to share ideas, one meeting in the middle of the year to see how we're doing. And then one at the end of the year so we can measure progress and show the congregation how we did. We'll have potlucks to make it a party.

It doesn't matter if you're high on the energy usage scale or low. The point is to calculate a baseline for carbon emissions and find ways to reduce it. I will aggregate tonnage numbers for the sake of anonymity.

There are many benefits to reducing our energy use. The most tangible one is the money you'll save on your PG&E bill and gasoline costs. And you'll have a sense of participation in the larger world.

Having been a member of this church for over 3 years I have the impression that I am surrounded by a bunch of critical thinkers. I mean that as a compliment. You all seem to be a group of people who frequently look around and wonder: could things be better, more just, more democratic, more soulful, more mindful? I'd like to see us apply that thinking to our current fossil fuel-centered economy. Reducing our use of petroleum and ultimately shifting to cleaner, more sustainable energy would mean improved air quality, reduced respiratory illnesses like asthma, fewer wars over oil and a reduced trade deficit. If we had the political will in this country on the order of the Manhattan project, we could become energy independent in 10 years through energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.

But in the end what really matters is the legacy we pass along. This congregation was founded by a group of people who wanted something better for their children. Years from now when we talk with them about the fact that we understood the threats global climate change posed, I hope we will be able to say that we did something to try and make a difference.

Back to Top