STUART LIEBOWITZ

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January 23, 2013
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Guest column: Numbers that leave us numb

I’ve always had a love for and fascination with math. For that I can thank my mother. It started in kindergarten. She would walk to school with me and we would play the “doubling game.”

Starting with the number one, she would ask me to double the number. And then I would take that number and double it, and double the next answer, and so on. Eventually, it became quite a challenge. But today, there are numbers that are not fascinating. They are frightening. And it has to do with climate change.

Price Waterhouse Coopers, the world’s largest accounting firm in terms of 2012 revenue, took a look at the numbers. Their conclusion?

In order to keep temperature increases in the 21st century below 2 degrees Celsius (roughly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), we must reduce our worldwide carbon emissions 5.1 percent each year for the next 37 years. Three and one-half degrees is the bottom-line temperature increase to keep our planet somewhat livable.

So how is the world doing in regards to the 5.1 percent target? Since World War II, we have never reduced our carbon 5.1 percent in any single year. To make matters worse, our current yearly carbon reduction rate is only 0.8 percent. And even doubling that rate would lead to a temperature increase of nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit by century’s end.

And it’s not as if we aren’t seeing the results of climate change already. More numbers: The September issue of National Geographic laid out the cost of extreme weather in the United States and around the world.

In 2011, worldwide weather-related damages totaled $150 billion, up 25 percent from the previous year. In that same year, the United States had 14 weather events costing at least $1 billion — up from the previous record of nine.

And this has been part of a dramatic trend upward in the cost and intensity of weather-related disasters. Between 1980 and 1995, the United States experienced 46 of these disasters equaling $1 billion or more. Total cost: $339 billion. But between 1996 and 2011, the number of billion-plus dollar disasters soared to 87. Total cost — $541 billion. And this was before Hurricane Sandy. Columnist Thomas Friedman put the cost of Sandy in perspective.

The potential price tag of Sandy, $60 billion, is just about equal to the amount of money to be generated next year by the recently agreed upon tax increases. It seems a good way to avoid a fiscal cliff is to do something about our climate cliff. And quickly.

Still more numbers: In the United States, the year 2012 was the hottest ever, breaking the old mark by a full degree. Our country suffered through more than 34,000 record highs while seeing only 6,664 record lows. Back in the 1970s, the number of record highs and lows were pretty even. But no more.

We remember the extreme droughts in the summer. Yet, 61 percent of the country is still in moderate to severe drought conditions. And as for global temperature, nobody who is younger than 28 has lived through a single month that fell below the 20th-century average.

And it’s not just here that we have seen extreme weather conditions. Australia has gone two months without rainfall, with temperatures predicted to reach up to 129 degrees, shattering the old mark of 123 degrees. In fact, already in 2013, the nation has experienced four of its 10 hottest days on record. England, on the other hand, has experienced massive flooding, with four of its wettest years occurring in the last 10 years.

What we have seen is a foretaste of things to come unless we resolve to address the climate crisis now. If you want to have your voice heard, join the national Presidents Day rally on climate change on Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. To learn about this rally and efforts around the country, go to forwardonclimate.org.

When I was a child, I was fortunate to get my first math lessons from my mother. Today, we need to pay attention to our lessons from Mother Nature. And it is quite simple: If we fail to do the math, Mother Nature will do the wrath.

Stuart Liebowitz is a board member of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition. He has been a Roseburg resident for 30 years and can be reached at 541-672-9819.


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The News-Review Updated Jan 23, 2013 11:54AM Published Jan 23, 2013 11:54AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.