The hope for environmental enthusiasts is that this concrete proof of the dangers of human pollution with regard for the atmosphere will provide the impetus for measurable progress at this months international summit on global climate control. Most of the countries of the world will be represented at the Hague in a few weeks when details of the 1997 Kyoto Protocola treaty which sets specific goals for the reduction of the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will ostensibly be resolved. The treaty, which was largely negotiated by Vice President Al Gore 69 (insert joke about Gore being the first to identify the phenomenon of global warming here) has been signed by more than 150 countries. Unfortunately, the treaty has yet to be ratified by any industrialized nation, including the United States. Without ratification, the document is largely symbolic and wholly ineffective.
The fault for this inaction on the part of the United States and other developed countries lies with an inability to take the concept of global warming seriously, in combination with an intense desire to protect recent economic successes. As we move farther away in time from the moment when holes in the ozone layer first were noticed, life continues to progress as usual and we wonder what the big fuss was about; without palpable catastrophe, the theory begins to seem far-fetched and totally passe. The once spell-bounding specter of spreading deserts, of global famine, of expensive real estate on the Florida panhandle disappearing beneath the Atlantic as unforgiving waters reclaim Vero Beach, no longer invokes a powerful reaction of shock and dismay. Why agree to impose on ourselves expensive pollution controls that will slow production, simply for the sake of preventing something that seems more fantasy than reality?
All of this, combined with a previous lack of consensus among members of the scientific community about whether there is a problem and what we might do about it if there was, seems to indicate that the theory of global warming--to use an inexcusably terrible pun--is washed up. This is a false, misleading, and terribly dangerous conclusion for the nation, and the world, to draw; and a fatal one should we choose it as the determinant of our future. The simple truth is this report provides us with the documented, undeniable proof that our behavior has significantly impacted worldwide climate trends, and that the alteration of those trends has in turn resulted in shrinking glaciers, thinning polar sea ice, retreating snow packs, warmer average global temperatures and disturbances in the flow of water within the oceans. Whether or not one feels that these changes wont be as bad as predicted, or wont cause problems as quickly as suggested, it is irresponsible--and no longer possible--to ignore the problem out-of-hand.
Consequently, it is imperative that we take concrete steps towards the reduction of our greenhouse gas production. Unfortunately, tangible successes for control of these substances in the United States to date have come exclusively from the private sector, where individual companies and corporations have taken it upon themselves to explore new alternatives. In the past year, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Dow Chemical, IBM and Johnson & Johnson have all made (and followed through with) pledges to cut their production of carbon dioxide; recently, Du Pont, Shell and others joined in a voluntary plan to reduce the wasteful use of energy and produce cleaner products. And just last week, BP and Ford donated $20 million to Princeton University to develop a technique called carbon sequestration, which could potentially stow carbon emissions safely within the earth.
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