Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Earth's Prognosis

The Earth's Prognosis

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!. Posted October 30, 2007.

One of the world's leading scientists on global warming talks about the future of the planet, its species and our energy future.

AMY GOODMAN: A group of scientists in Britain are warning global warming could wipe out more than half the earth's species in the next few centuries. That finding appears in a new study published by researchers at the University of York. Scientists examined the relationship between climate and extinction rates over the past 500 million years. They determined that rising temperatures caused three of the earth's four biggest periods of mass extinction.

Today, we're going to spend the hour with one of the world's leading scientists studying climate change. His name: Tim Flannery. He's an Australian mammologist and palaeontologist. As a field zoologist, he has discovered and named more than sixty species. He has been described as being in league with the all-time great explorers like Dr. David Livingstone.

Here in this country, Tim Flannery might be best known as author of the bestselling book The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change. Earlier this year, he was named the 2007 Australian of the Year. He was awarded the prize by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He joins us today in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the hour.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

TIM FLANNERY: Thanks very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us, Tim Flannery. Well, we are talking today in dire times. The fires are raging in Southern California. A major drought has struck the Southeast, from Tennessee through the Carolinas, Georgia. Atlanta could run out of water. And then we've seen this drenching downpour in New Orleans. They had to close City Hall, close the schools. Is there a connection between the fire, the water and the drought?

TIM FLANNERY: Yeah. Look, the best way to think about these things, really, is to take a bigger global view. And Americans might feel they're suffering from a whole lot of severe weather at the moment, but look globally and you see exactly the same thing around the world. Anywhere with a Mediterranean climate, such as Greece or Australia or California, is suffering extreme wildfires. Now, why is that happening? The climate is slowly shifting, so that the desert regions adjacent to those Mediterranean areas, you know, are starting to expand.

The same with droughts and floods. It's not just the Southeast of the US. Europe has had its great droughts and water shortages. Australia is in the grip of a drought that's almost unbelievable in its ferocity. Again, this is a global picture. We're just getting much less usable water than we did a decade or two or three decades ago. It's a sort of thing again that the climate models are predicting. In terms of the floods, again we see the same thing. You know, a warmer atmosphere is just a more energetic atmosphere.

So if you ask me about single flood event or a single fire event, it's really hard to make the connection, but take the bigger picture and you can see very clearly what's happening.

AMY GOODMAN: We were reporting just a while ago about the fires in Greece. Is there a connection to the fires in California?

TIM FLANNERY: Absolutely. It's the same sort of environment. Greece is part of a Mediterranean climate system. And what you see there is that those very harsh conditions that characterize the Sahara to the south are now attempting to move northwards. You know, the climate is shifting, such as that those conditions are going to prevail further northwards. So, this is part of a global picture.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a controversy in Washington, D.C. just this week. The Bush administration is being accused of severely editing the congressional testimony by a senior health official on the impact of climate change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Julie Gerberding, appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee just last Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports two sources familiar with both her initial draft and the White House's revisions say the administration imposed major changes. Gerberding's final testimony is said to have omitted lengthy passages she had initially included on the health risks of global warming. Her final document was whittled down to four pages from an initial fourteen.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Dana Perino was asked about the controversy. This is what Dana Perino had to say.

DANA PERINO: As I understand it, in the draft there was broad characterizations about climate change science that didn't align with the IPCC. And we have experts and scientists across this administration that can take a look at that testimony and say, "This is an error" or "This doesn't make sense." And so, the decision on behalf of CDC was to focus that testimony on public health benefits. There are public health benefits to climate change, as well, but both benefits and concerns that somebody like a Dr. Gerberding, who is the expert in the field, could address. And so, that's the testimony that she provided yesterday.
REPORTER: Is it typical for the White House to cut that much of an administration official's prepared ...


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Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!

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