Most advocate immediate and drastic reductions in the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, emitted mainly in the transportation and industrial sectors, which contribute to global warming.
But many of the most heavily industrialized nations find the economic costs of this prescription hard to swallow. Instead, some, led by the United States, are looking at geo-engineering schemes -- large-scale attempts to manipulate the environment to produce environmental change, according to the ETC Group, a Canadian-based non-governmental organization.
Many such schemes are currently under scientific study, and include deliberately polluting the stratosphere with tiny sulphur dioxide particles or putting trillions of wafer-thin reflectors into orbit. Both of these measures are intended to deflect sunlight and cool the Earth, according to the ETC Group's report "Gambling with Gaia" released on Feb. 1.
Other mitigation plans have already been launched over the past few years, such as dumping tons of iron particles into the oceans to trigger phytoplankton blooms in the hopes of absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"There's a little bit of panic brewing, governments are taking these wacky ideas seriously," says Pat Mooney of the ETC Group.
Weather modification is also being explored, with a major conference on the topic planned later this year by the World Meteorological Organization, Mooney told IPS.
"NASA and the U.S. Navy are also talking about projects behind closed doors," he said.
The U.S. government has been lobbying the IPCC to include geo-engineering in the third part of its report to be released in May on ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
However, the ETC report warns that, "Geo-engineering is the wrong response to climate change. Any experimentation to alter the structure of the oceans or the stratosphere should not proceed without thorough and informed public debate on its consequences."
Meanwhile, multinational corporations and politicians are painting themselves green and proclaiming they are taking action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Oil giant BP America announced on Feb. 1 it was giving a $500 million grant to the University of California at Berkeley to research renewable fuels and clean energy.
"BP's grant is a form of greenwashing -- so they will look greener than the other oil companies," said Pratap Chatterjee, managing editor of the Washington-based group Corpwatch.
"What America needs to do to reduce emissions is to consume less and build a much better public transportation system," Chatterjee said in an interview.
Alternative fuels like ethanol will make little difference -- although they will earn profits for oil companies like BP, he said.
"Corporations bear the largest responsibility for creating global warming and it's past time they started using their profits to truly help solve the problem," he said.
In Canada, politicians are fighting to be the greenest of the green. That includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who only a year ago questioned the validity of the science around climate change but now says Canada "must act" to curb global warming.
"Politicians and others will all be saying 'we're finally tackling the issue' but it won't be true," said Mooney.
Instead of accepting the green spin, the public should insist on immediate, substantial and mandatory emissions cuts in all sectors and fines for non-compliance, he added. "Anything short of that will not work and will just be a pretence," Mooney argued.
Knowing the green tide is rising, there is a major rush in the U.S. to build new coal-fired power plants before any carbon emissions caps are passed into law, says David Archer, a climatologist at the University of Chicago.
TXU, a Dallas-based company, plans to build 11 coal power plants in Texas in the next few years resulting in emissions of 78 million tons of the global warming gas carbon dioxide every year. Somewhere between 130 and 160 new plants have been proposed to meet the rapidly growing energy needs of the U.S.
Once built, such power plants can operate for 50 or more years. In the past, whenever tougher new pollution rules came into place, existing plants were usually "grandfathered," meaning they were exempted from having to comply with the new regulations. And that is a major concern.
"There is at least 50 times more coal left in the ground than oil," Archer said.
Trading in carbon credits has been one of Europe's solutions for reducing emissions. This is a complex market-based system where companies that emit greenhouse gases are given credits or penalties based on their emission levels. A coal-fired power plant in Europe, for example, can continue to emit millions of tons of carbon by purchasing carbon credits from elsewhere.
Carbon trading has become a multi-billion-dollar industry and commercial carbon traders are funding geo-engineering schemes like ocean fertilization in order to create "credits" they can sell to companies, the ETC report found.
"The European carbon trading market is a complete failure. It simply slows down the pace of emission reductions," Mooney argued.
Governments must make emissions cuts mandatory and not allow trading or allowances, he says. "Carbon-credit profiteering is already going on and it will get worse."
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Albion Monitor February
5, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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