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What do George W. Bush, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, gangsta rap, and SUVs have in common? They're all among the hundred ways in which America is screwing up the world. The country that was responsible for many, if not most, of the twentieth century's most important scientific and technological advancements now demonizes its scientists and thinkers in the twenty-first, while dumbing down its youth with anti-Darwin/pro-"Intelligent Design" propaganda. The longtime paragon of personal freedoms now supports torture and ...
What do George W. Bush, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, gangsta rap, and SUVs have in common? They're all among the hundred ways in which America is screwing up the world. The country that was responsible for many, if not most, of the twentieth century's most important scientific and technological advancements now demonizes its scientists and thinkers in the twenty-first, while dumbing down its youth with anti-Darwin/pro-"Intelligent Design" propaganda. The longtime paragon of personal freedoms now supports torture and illegal wiretapping—spreading its principles and policies at gunpoint while ruthlessly bombing the world with Big Macs and Mickey Mouse ears.
At once serious-minded and satirical, John Tirman's 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World is an insightful, unabashed, entertaining, and distressing look at where we've gone terribly wrong—from the destruction of the environment to the promotion of abhorrent personal health and eating habits to the "wussification" of the free press—an alternately admonishing and amusing call to arms for patriotic Blue America.
Altering the Earth's Climate
Some acts of a powerful nation affect people somewhere in the world very directly, like starting a war. Sometimes a lack of action has a deplorable effect, such as not stopping genocide. Slowly unfolding and irreversible impacts, often unintentional, are also devastating, as with the gradual loss of cultural diversity. And at times there's a head-in-the-sand ignorance or neglect of a visible problem, such as the first decade or so of responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Rarely do all four of these phenomena combine noticeably into one. But with climate change, the United States has managed almost single-handedly to be the cause, the obstacle to remedial action, a chronic ignoramus, and an aggressive denier of its monumental culpability.
No other issue on the global table today affects the well-being of everything on the planet as much as the dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and, along with it, into the oceans. It will cause incalculable human suffering and economic costs. It will touch everyone and everything except perhaps the very rich, but even they will likely be adversely affected. It is preventable--or at least can be mitigated--but we ignore it. Understanding why speaks volumes about how America acts in the world today.
Let's begin with a few facts. Therelevant changes in the earth's climate, including the warming of the atmosphere, are caused by emissions of carbon dioxide from industrial plants, automobiles, and other technologies created by humans. As the earth warms, the ice caps melt and the seas rise. The weather is likely to change--not only warmer, but more volatile, resulting in more droughts and forest fires. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air also can affect crops, livestock, and the transmission of diseases. Carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed by the oceans, as is freshwater runoff from melting, and this (which has been carefully measured already) is likely to alter ocean temperatures, currents, and the viability of marine life. The oceans, in fact, which control much of what happens climatically above the waterline, may be the key: when ocean current circulation was disrupted by glacier melting 12,000 years ago, it ushered in the last Ice Age.
The consequences of these changes are difficult to know, not only because the pace of change is unpredictable, but because of the scale of the systems. Ecosystems are dynamic: they interact with one another in millions of measurable and immeasurable ways. For example, as the permafrost melts, it not only adds to sea levels, but reduces the amount of sunlight reflected back into outer space, sunlight instead being absorbed into the waters to produce more warming in a continuous feedback loop. A similar dynamic is visible in microbes in the soil: longer growing seasons due to warming enable them to produce and release more methane into the atmosphere, which altogether is an amazing quantity.
Because the systems are so large, the visible impacts are seen only gradually; in fact, there is a "thermal inertia" at work, meaning that the effects will manifest gradually and continue for centuries, even if we halted the growth of greenhouse gases immediately.
Within that conservative range of estimates, however, the effects are certain to be enormous. The loss of biological diversity, the costly transformations in agriculture, the potential extinction of 10 percent or more of all species, the wholesale adjustments of living and working in the coastal cities, the freezing effects on northern Europe resulting from the loss of the gulf stream, the growth in new virulent diseases due to rising temperatures--all of these effects are now considered to be probable, not merely imaginable, over the coming decades.
The science is definitive. There is no major dispute among the climatologists, oceanographers, and others studying climate change, a field of work that is now well developed. The scientific deniers are skeptics about the potential scale of destruction, not the fact that it's occurring.
The main culprit in all this is the industrial age itself, the use of fossil fuels in particular--coal and petroleum--to run the fac-tories, cars, and electric power plants of the world. Since the entire world has been industrializing for more than two centuries, one could say the whole of humanity is to blame. But the United States holds a special place in this pantheon of pollution.
America is the largest polluter in the world, and no one really comes in a close second. We produce more greenhouse gases--the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that produce the "greenhouse effect" of global warming--than any other country. Our 4 percent of the world's population produces 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. We produce as much as the rest of the industrial world combined, several times more per person than Britain or Japan. And the United States will continue to be, on current trends, the largest contributor to the problem for many years to come.
To their credit, the United Nations and most countries in the world have made attempts to deal with this looming catastrophe. The major effort of this kind was the Kyoto Protocol, which was a modest constraint, asking for nations to reduce, by 2012, greenhouse emissions to slightly below 1990 levels. The treaty was finalized in 1997 and by the end of 2005 had been signed and ratified by 157 countries, including all of the European Community, Russia, Canada, and Japan. That is every country in the G-8, the largest industrial countries, except one: the United States of America. Why?
Given how widely supported the issue is among Americans--clear majorities support the Kyoto treaty and more stringent limits on carbon emissions--the absence of action by President Bush (and the weak leadership shown by President Clinton) is puzzling. But strong economic forces are arrayed against action, and since 9/11 the public has been distracted by the threat of terrorism, a problem that is minuscule compared with climate change.
Excerpted from 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World by John Tirman Copyright © 2006 by John Tirman. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 10, 2007
I read this book for my American Government class and despite the fact I was reluctant at first I'm actually quite glad i read it. The book really opens a person's eyes to the fact that almost everything we do here in America effects other countries. We in America have ruined the lives of so many in countless ways without even realizing what we are doing. It is a good book which really makes you think about some of the things in America that we encounter daily.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 28, 2006
This book was well written and eye opening. It didn't take a Democrat or Republican side, it criticized both for mistakes they have made. This book was easy to read and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out more about our government and ways we have screwed up so we can learn from them and improve ourselves.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 4, 2009
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Posted October 14, 2008
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Posted December 23, 2009
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