Global warming is real

Policy needed to adapt to climate change

The ongoing heat wave, which has blighted the nation for more than 10 days, killed people and animals, spoiled water reservoirs and caused power blackouts. Climate experts say that this year’s casualties will be the heaviest since the notorious summer of 1994, which left hundreds of people dead.

Far worse news is that the high temperature records will likely continue to be broken almost every year, not only here but across the world. All this reaffirms that global warming is no longer some alarmist doomsday scenario but a pressing reality, as well as highlighting its widely acknowledged causes: the endless pursuit of growth and excessive emission of greenhouse gases.

No amount of unusual weather events will be able to persuade the deniers of climate change, though. There are no perfect theories and non-believers will find fault in the slightest loopholes at any cost.

But that can’t be a reason for inaction, especially at a time when people are watching the damage of climate change continuing to occur.

This is not to say that Korea should stop growing economically or refrain from using fossil fuels, which is impossible even if it tries. But the nation needs to try its best to find a way for sustainable growth, or “green growth,” as President Lee Myung-bak emphasized, in a rare, if not the only, policy initiative of the incumbent administration that future governments should inherit.

It is understandable but regretful in this regard that the government is backpedaling on implementing cap-and-trade carbon taxes in the face of strong opposition from businesses. Korea is currently the world’s ninth emitter of carbon dioxide and the first in terms of its growth rate. Opponents ask why Korean firms should sacrifice themselves when industrial countries like the U.S. and Japan are balking at the idea, and reshaping an energy policy focusing on newly-found shale gas.

However, if scientists who support climate change theory are right, which is far likelier and more responsible than the opposite scenario, the discovery of less polluting fossil fuel may slow down the Doomsday Clock of climate disaster somewhat, but not stop it entirely. The best way for a resource-poor country like Korea to turn its disadvantages into advantages is to focus on research and development to produce renewable energy at lower costs as its new growth and export engine.

James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in a recent contribution to the Washington Post that what’s happening now around the world in climate terms “can’t be anything but man-made global warming.” Hansen called for imposing rising fees on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, adding it would stimulate innovation and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. “It is a simple, honest and effective solution,” he said. We can’t agree more.

Along with the policy change, the government needs to come up with ways of minimizing damage from climate change. Most urgent, for example, is how to keep poor elderly citizens from becoming victims to the heat wave.

Climate change and global warming are now not exceptional phenomena but the norm. Korea should first learn to live with them and then try to gradually change them. <The Korea Times>

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