Tom (Yusha) Sager
The Misfit Mathematician

tom (at)

Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007
World leaders fiddle,
while the Earth burns

"Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof."

This week, representatives of nearly 200 nations gather in Bali to hammer out a successor to the failed Kyoto protocol. The modest goals of Kyoto, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in wealthy countries to 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, have been ignored. Greenhouse gas emissions in these countries have risen 11 percent. The United States failed to even ratify the agreement, and saw its emissions of greenhouse gases rise 16 percent above 1990 levels.

I expect to see a lot of finger pointing and laying on of blame at Bali; and in the end, everyone congratulating themselves on a new pact that is as inadequate as it is likely to be ignored.

We are already experiencing world-wide destructive changes in weather patterns: the worst droughts in centuries from Atlanta to Australia, wild mega-fires in southern California, floods, hurricanes, rising sea-levels, and more. These climate changes cannot be simply turned off. They give rise to further release of greenhouse gases which in turn leads to increased warming.

Climate change is now inevitable. The question is no longer whether warming will occur, but how catastrophically and how quickly.

It might require a 90 percent reduction of man-made greenhouse gases to reverse the process and avert catastrophe. This is not impossible, if we all work together; but as long as we continue to make war, a most significant contributor of greenhouse gases, we can't mobilize to prevent environmental disaster.

It's not just getting rid of our gas-guzzling SUV's. Today, war is a luxury we simply can no longer afford.

Having increased our numbers, squandered our resources, and polluted our environment, we now face increased competition for what remains, and the possibility of catastrophic population collapse. We look to technology to save us, only to find our best and brightest working on weapon systems and instruments of war.

Since world leaders will not put aside their differences and work for the health of our planet, it's up to us, the people.

Can we at least elect a local government that views its mission as something other than bringing in big boxes that sell imported items manufactured under horrendous environmental conditions? Can we at least create a municipal utility that rewards citizens for conserving energy, instead of penalizing them? Can we at least begin to rethink what we mean by the word, "progress"?

I began this essay with the words of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells us whither our current path leads:

"The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. ... therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left."

And if you believe this warning is not for you:

"And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him."

To G. Pardee: The report on suicide among veterans that I referenced last week is from CBS News, mid-November, 2007.

(Tom Sager is a retired University of Missouri - Rolla professor. His column appears weekly in the Rolla Daily News.)