Climate Change 2013: The Earth Has Only 16 Years Before We Reach the Tipping Point


The topic of climate change took the U.S. by storm when Al Gore released his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Since then, however, the issue has not gained nearly enough traction nor generated enough dialogue. In his new book, Gore blames this partly on the power of "legacy industries" that block progress towards renewable energies, but part of the blame must also be shared by the media for maintaining "climate silence." CBS was the first network to break that silence this Sunday, hosting a climate change panel on Face the Nation.

For the past few years, even as the number of natural disasters we face is rising, the media has treated climate change as a political issue without any clear answer, as opposed to a scientific phenomenon that virtually every scientist has agreed is actually occurring. Even in the direct coverage of natural disasters, such as the devastating floods in the Midwest near the beginning of May, the media refused to mention climate change as a possible cause.

In this context, kudos to CBS for tackling an incredibly important issue that most are content to ignore.

Face the Nation featured a panel made up of several prominent names in the field of climate study as well as journalists and meteorologists. They began the segment by reiterating that climate change is not something that will go away if we shut our eyes and put our hands over our ears. Literally "thousands of peer-reviewed studies" have proven that the change in weather is directly connected to human activity spanning decades.

The panel went on to discuss the several natural disasters that have occurred in the past few months alone, spanning tornadoes and droughts to floods and wildfires. The intensity and frequency of these events, they stated, was an effect of climate change, and such disasters are only likely to get more and more dangerous into the future.

The last topic of discussion was potential solutions. The panel split into two sides on this one. Some panelists suggested different options to prevent further greenhouse gas pollution, such as a transition to renewable energy and increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles. Others, however, saw the only real solution as finding ways to live in an imbalanced world, like avoiding development in flood-prone areas.

Such a view might seem unnecessarily bleak and pessimistic, but it's by far the more practical view. The Earth has only 16 years left of emitting greenhouse gases until we reach a tipping point. That's not 16 years left to begin approaching the issue, that's 16 years left to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether. Frankly, and tragically, this radical of an action in such short of a timeline just doesn't seem realistic.  

So while we should praise CBS for speaking up about climate change, it seems we've all been silent for far too long.