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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

High Stakes Environmental Poker

Air Date: Week of

Former Sacramento Bee reporter and commentator Tom Harris looks for changes in how the new Administration plays high stakes poker when it comes to global warming.


CURWOOD: Some may see reviving the economy as the high stakes for the incoming Clinton Administration, but environmental reporter, author and commentator Tom Harris says the new president faces an even bigger wager.

HARRIS: Now that "those two Bozos" are headed for the White House, and the author of that unflattering sobriquet sent packing for Kennebunkport, look for changes in how America plays high-stakes environmental poker on a global scale. No mistake: gambling is the right word for our country's approach to global warming for the past twelve years. The White House raised the stakes every time scientists came up with more evidence of carbon dioxide buildup. Instead, it kept "betting on the come," unjustifiably hopeful that tomorrow would bring a different result or at least more time to decide how to play the ultimate end game.

I don't know for certain which scientific camp is exactly right here. But gambling with our childrens' future, if not our own, is ludicrous by anybody's rules. Virtually no scientist disagrees with the general hypothesis, and a majority think we are in the eye of the affect already, or uncomfortably close to it. There are differences, true, over how warm and how fast, but those are narrowing. Yes, some scientists still disagree. I met one recently who thinks that more CO2 might even be good for us. Well, you know what happens in a greenhouse, he said. Things grow better there.

But in a normal greenhouse, someone controls temperature and watering. In our planetary version, no one will be at the controls. What good will more nutrients do if the soil is hot enough to soft-boil an egg or dry enough to choke a camel? "Well, no one can predict precisely how hot or dry it will get in any given place," said the scientist. "There will be some areas where crops will do better than others. We'll just have to adjust." Tell that to the wheat farmers in Kansas, says I.

Who gave some dissident academic or misguided politician the right to make such a bet in the first place, to wager their profit against our survival? Do we grant anyone that license, bozos or not? I don't think so. But if that is electorally granted, I hope we side with those who acknowledge uncertainty but want no part of bluffing on such a grand scale. You know, I think we just did. We dealt ourselves a new hand the first week of November. Now, we'll just have to sit back and see how Mr. Ozone and that Spotted Owl crowd play our cards after January 20th.

CURWOOD: Tom Harris is a former writer for the Sacramento Bee and a commentator for Living on Earth.



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