Climate Change: A Faceless Menace

Alaska Glacier
Ice breaks from a glacier in the Prince William Sound of Alaska. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 98% of Alaska’s large glaciers at lower levels are thinning or in retreat. (Len Radin/Flickr – click to enlarge)
Op-Ed by Tom Bell

An Open Letter to Gov. Matt Mead and Fellow Wyoming Citizens:

Having served in World War II, and nearly losing my life, I have tried to stay tuned to what is going on in the world. What I see in terms of the greatest crisis ever to face mankind greatly concerns me. That crisis is climate change and the reaction of so many people to it.

President Obama, in his presidential acceptance speech, said, “And yes, my plan will continue to reduce carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future…”

I was born in a little coal mining camp outside of Rock Springs in 1924.  I was raised on a ranch five miles out of Lander and two miles from where my mother was born in 1901. After attending one-room rural schools, I then went to the Lander high school. My classmates and I graduated just in time to be gun fodder for WWII. Age requirement for the U.S. Army Air Corps was 18 so in the spring of 1942, I was enrolled at the University of Wyoming when I enlisted.

My crew of ten young men flew a brand new B-24 bomber from New York City to South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, across the Sahara Desert to a temporary training camp in Tunisia, and finally across the Mediterranean to our tent camp home amongst olive trees near Foggia, Italy. Five of those young men never returned alive. Two of us are still living.

My 32nd mission ended my Air Force career. Five miles up over Vienna, Austria, on May 10, 1944, a German flak burst pulverized the right side of my face and destroyed my right eye. For my actions that day I was awarded the Armed Services third highest combat military decoration, the Silver Star. I won the Purple Heart and was awarded the Air Medal with three clusters. I retired as a 1st Lt. at the age of 20, not yet old enough to vote or go into a bar and buy a bottle of beer.

I returned home, re-entered the University, earned two degrees, and was launched into a productive and successful life. I believe I can speak as an elder and a patriot.

From my perspective, I believe we are at a crossroads of history. Mankind and our civilization are at stake. If we do nothing to stop carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere, planet Earth will face a future similar to that of Mars today. We are foreclosing the future for our children and grandchildren.

The days following December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day – were grim and frightening. The Japanese had just destroyed much of our Pacific fleet and had already overrun much of Asia. Hitler’s armies had taken most of Europe and with Mussolini’s armies were set on taking Africa. What chance did we have to prevail against such odds? I and just about every other young, able-bodied American male and many young women were ready to take on those odds. It was nip and tuck for a while as we faced such enemies. Many of us died, all gave of themselves, and everybody sacrificed. Our whole economic system was turned into a war machine. And that is what is going to have to take place to overcome this latest great threat to our very existence.

What mankind faces today is even more grim and frightening. Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini were persons with faces. You could take their photos. Carbon dioxide is unseen but a part of our everyday environment.

It is with us for every minute of our existence. Without it we could not live a normal life but ironically too much of it is going to end life on Earth as we know it. How can you face down and overcome something you cannot even see or detect? How can you wrap your brain around the idea that a substance as innocuous as carbon dioxide can destroy the world you live in?

Veteran ABC journalist Bill Blakemore thinks one of the reasons Americans don’t, or can’t, believe in climate change is because of the “unprecedented scale and complexity of the crisis of manmade global warming.” Blakemore goes on to say, “We (journalists) try to get a fix on whatever new psychological barriers the latest story has presented us.” And then continues to relate what one of his college professors had said: “All genuine learning is frightening. It’s new, and therefore unknown, at first.

“And we’re naturally frightened of the unknown.” He concludes, “Manmade global warming appears, so far, to have been the biggest (barrier) of all.”

Rob Watson, an environmentalist, likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology, and physics. That’s all she is. You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate. And ‘Mother Nature always bats last and she always bats a thousand.’ Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we are doing.”

You have only to use your eyes and have a lick of sense to see something is terribly wrong. Devastating events, attributable to climate change, are taking people’s lives and their way of life all around the world. Climate scientists tell us it is only going to get worse unless and until we do something about carbon.

To do something about carbon means reducing the use of coal and oil. In Wyoming, that is speaking heresy. But we must begin to talk about it before it is too late.

What can we do? Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy-Progress Energy (the largest electric utility in the U.S.) said on CNN, September 3, “I believe eventually there will be regulation of carbon in this country.”

Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading climate scientists, thinks we have only a small window of opportunity to save Planet Earth, and the place to start is with a tax on carbon. All of those deeply concerned with climate change believe a carbon tax has advantages over every other approach.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn) introduced a bill into Congress in August, 2007, that would have imposed a $15/ton tax on every carbon dioxide emission.  It and similar bills introduced by Democrats went nowhere.

I believe it is time for the people of this country, and especially Wyoming where so much carbon is produced, to face the hard truth and deal with the facts.  If we do not, the last of our lineage will curse us as they leave this Earth, as all the other humans will have already done, under the most dreadful of conditions.

It will call for a complete overhaul of our existing economic system and for tremendous sacrifices on the part of everyone.  It will mean going on an all-out wartime basis.  There is no time to lose.

-Tom Bell is the founder of the Wyoming Outdoor Council and lives in Lander, Wyoming.

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  1. And here is the list of the hundreds of scientific institutions and academies worldwide (over 98%) who agree that man-made climate change is here and a growing threat.

    The only ‘no comment’ academies are the ones who rely on carbon fuels industry to survive, such as the American Petroleum Geologists.

    And here is an article that lays out exactly what we are facing if changes are not made soon:

    Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
    Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is

    Read more: