Global Warming: Challenge For A Generation

(01/15/2007)

After years of the US government ignoring any meaningful national energy policy and the global warming problem being attacked as a fraud, Ben Perry says now is the time to face some reality.

By Ben Perry
CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST
Lexington Herald Leader

We American baby boomers have had a heckuva ride. We were born in the wealthiest nation on Earth and have lived through the most prosperous time in the history of the world.

The post-World War II economy has produced a standard of living that allows millions of Americans to live as only the very privileged lived before them. Even our middle and lower classes have experienced a material prosperity beyond the imagination of most turn-of-the-century Americans.

If you subscribe to the idea that "to whom much is given, much is expected," we boomers should begin thinking about what is expected of us and what our legacy as a generation will be.

Our parents' generation helped defeat Nazi Germany and put a man on the moon. As amazing as those feats are, they pale by comparison to the opportunity our generation has before us.

Global warming is already affecting our lives significantly and promises much more serious threats within our lifetimes if not addressed promptly and effectively.

Recent studies have documented dramatic increases in air and ocean temperatures, contributing to the frequency and severity of storms, the melting of glaciers and ice-caps, and the spread of insect-borne diseases.

These conditions, combined with predicted major increases in droughts, heat waves, sea levels and mass extinctions will likely create global challenges heretofore unimagined.

With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States produces 22 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. We boomers, the country's largest generation, are at the peak of our earning power and therefore contribute more to global warming than any single group in the world.

So we are called to take the lead in addressing the issue, embracing it as our legacy and our opportunity to give back for the many blessings we have received.

We can either be the generation that lived it up until we were forced to take drastic measures just to salvage a rudimentary existence on the planet, or we can be the one that future generations study to understand how human beings can take an honest look at the consequences of their actions and make the changes necessary to ensure a brighter future for subsequent generations.

Even if we are not willing to accept this as a call to our generation, we must take action as a matter of enlightened self-interest, if only to ensure the continuation of our economic prosperity.

A recent major study by Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Trade Organization, indicates that failure to take swift action on global warming will result in a worldwide economic downturn on the scale of the Great Depression in our lifetime.

Our buying power is already being eroded by the increasing cost of insurance premiums, building materials and federal expenditures related to climate change, and dramatic price increases on other items -- including energy, food, water, homes and air fare -- are predicted by the study.

The good news is that the worst effects can be averted by an investment of only about 1 percent of world gross domestic product if we begin investing now.

"That's manageable," Stern says. "We can grow and be green."

More good news is that this investment will spur the U.S. and global economies, create jobs and likely offset some of the economic downturn caused by the consequences of global warming.

Boomers are already an accomplished generation. We have proven that we can invent mind-boggling technology, market anything to anybody and create amazingly lavish lifestyles. But is that all we want to be remembered for?

I challenge us to be the generation that left our excuses at the door, rolled up our sleeves and laid the foundation for a world that will sustain and support the human race for thousands of years.

It is our moment in history, and while we have shown signs of life, the jury is still out as to whether we will answer the challenge or spend our remaining time pointing fingers, making excuses and settling for policies that fall short of the mark.

- Ben Perry of Lexington is the coordinator of the Bluegrass Energy & Green Living Expo. E-mail him at benperry@a-spi.org


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