“Bite-Sized” Solutions For Climate Change May Not Be Enough

Last month, President Obama told the National Journal that he plans to address climate and energy through a suite of “bite-sized” policies smaller and less complex than a comprehensive bill:

“[W]e still need an energy policy in this country. I think that it is not realistic to expect that we have another big omnibus, comprehensive one-size-fits-all energy bill. We’re probably going to have a series of more bite-sized pieces that have to do with renewable energy standards, that continue to build on the good work we’ve done to improve fuel efficiency in cars, energy efficiency in buildings.”

The president’s determination to do something to break our cycle of harmful energy choices in the face of significant partisan opposition is certainly laudable, but it’s hard to take out a rapidly approaching leviathan like climate change with little ‘bites.’

Just last week NASA reported that data from January through October put 2010 on track to be the warmest year on record—which was also borne out in the January-September numbers.

That’s not all: recent findings on sea level rise suggest the toll of melting glaciers and snowpack could be more serious than previously projected when all is said and done:

Scientists long believed that the collapse of the gigantic ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica would take thousands of years, with sea level possibly rising as little as seven inches in this century, about the same amount as in the 20th century.

But researchers have recently been startled to see big changes unfold in both Greenland and Antarctica.

As a result of recent calculations that take the changes into account, many scientists now say that sea level is likely to rise perhaps three feet by 2100 — an increase that, should it come to pass, would pose a threat to coastal regions the world over.

Global warming is feeling like a bigger and bigger fish every day.

The main problem with a body of “bite-sized” solutions is that it is greatly outpaced in rapidity and severity by the condition it seeks to solve—an unnatural trend that is set to take tremendous chunks out of natural resources, wildlife, and communities in the years ahead. Put simply, it seems to be biting us a lot bigger and harder than we are biting it.

That’s not to say we should stop pursuing small, pragmatic solutions. But while we forge ahead, we need to remember the size of the jaws behind us.

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Published: November 17, 2010