Published on 1st October 2018 by

Emission Impossible (1999): A look at the early debates surroundeing climate change – and those who deny its existence.

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In Greenville, California, the local gospel church is filled with the cries of mourning. 50 of their congregation were wiped out in an extreme flood, the worst to hit here since records began 500 years ago. In a fast-cut montage we witness some of the past decades inexplicable weather. But the suffering sent from the heavens may have an earthly origin.

At the Hadley Centre in England the most powerful climate modelling supercomputer in the world has issued its chilling prediction: in less than 50 years the rainforests of the Amazon will to choke and die. The warning signs are already all around us. Pine forests in Canada are starting to die as the snow line moves further north, and sea levels are rising. In early 1999 two small unpopulated islands disappeared beneath the Pacific Ocean and it was barely noticed, but once you realise that a billion people live on or near the coast, then rising seas take on a new meaning. The low-lying regions of eastern India and Bangladesh, already affected by rising sea levels and horrendous storms, may literally go under water creating at least one billion environmental refugees.

But for all the evidence the industrialised world is stalling on cutting carbon emissions spurred on by the vocal US political right. “The American people aren’t gonna lower our standard of living over some issue like global warming, which is not scientifically proven and could well be just a bunch of baloney,” says lobbying Republican Dana Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter to Ronald Reagan. The right is backed by scientists like Professor Pat Michaels whose research is in turn funded by the Western Fuels Association. In his much-peddled video ‘The Greening of Planet Earth’ he maintains that a doubling of the CO2 content of the atmosphere will up the rate of plant photosynthesis ‘greening’ planet earth. It’s a theory widely rubbished by other climate scientists who argue that decreased rainfall and higher temperatures will nullify any CO2 fertiliser effect. But Pat Michael is saying what business wants to hear. Cheap energy is at the root of US competitiveness. A hugely damaging TV ad campaign, paid for by anti Kyoto lobbyists, helped convince US politicians like Vice President Al Gore that Kyoto was bad for America.

While the US and Europe are fighting over Kyoto, there are some developing countries that are showing the rest of the world what can be done. In Costa Rica they’ve turned to tree planting as a way of making money in the battle to beat global warming. A tonne of carbon offset by tree planting in Costa Rica sells for $10 dollars. This new carbon trade was an outcome from Kyoto, a way to help nations meet their emission targets. If polluters can’t meet their emissions targets, they can pay tree planters to soak up the difference and store their problem. It’s a neat scheme but John Houghton, head of the UN Panel on Climate Change, warns on over-reliance on carbon trading. “It can be used as a cop out and doesn’t really do what we would need to do which is reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that gets into the atmosphere.”

This stylish documentary gets to the eye of the global warming storm, the biggest challenge facing the human race at the close of the 20th century.

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