15 December 2007

Climate Change

The New York Times has been covering the climate talks in Indonesia for the past several days, often running the story at the top of the web edition. on line at the moment concerns climate talks on-going in Indonesia. Articles note that the Bush administration has been sharply criticized for its reluctance to make any substantial commitments to limiting the use of fossil fuels and, therefore, to the release of greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

Yet the paper also provides a helpful list of "The 53 Places to Go in 2008" (published December 9). The top ten: Laos, Lisbon, Tunisia, Mauritius, Miami (Mid-Beach and South Beach), Maldives, Death Valley, Courchevel, and Libya. Among the remaining 43 places, just four are in the United States: San Francisco, Detroit, San Diego, and (at 53rd place) New York.

Without apparent irony, the article comments: "The ice-capped peak of Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, is melting at an alarming rate. Within several decades, scientists predict, the glaciers will have completely disappeared" and then goes on to comment: Expect more adventure seekers to tackle the climb next year: One outfitter, International Mountain Guides, has seven trips scheduled for 2008."

The article does not mention the amount of fossil fuels burned in traveling to the remote places on the list, nor of the local impact of increased tourism on already fragile environments. Air travel is a major culprit in global warming for various reasons, including huge amounts of fuel burned, the impact on the upper atmosphere of contrails (those trailing lines you can see following airplanes through the sky), and the vast increases in numbers of flights in the past few decades.

The Times has published plenty of articles and op-ed pieces about climate change. But there's not a lot of attention to individual responsibility, in terms of the decisions the little people make day in and day out, year in and year out, and the impact of those decisions on the earth. In the article "Study Details How U.S. Could Cut 28% of Greenhouse Gases," published last month, Matthew L. Wald focuses on regulatory change that would force consumers and government bodies to reduce energy consumption.

These are important points. Moreover, town and city management should focus on encouraging rather than discouraging walking, cycling and use of public transit. But there's another major piece of the puzzle: Individuals, and especially those who are well-off or relatively so, need to take responsibility for reducing their own carbon footprint.

The editors of the Times ought to be using their considerable informational power to encourage individual choices that reduce energy use, rather than suggesting travel itineraries that will only contribute to global warming.