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The past few weeks have marked a milestone in the fight to combat global warming. On Feb. 19, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the most authoritative scientific voice on global warming, officially released the most comprehensive report to date on existing and long-term effects of global climate change. The outlook does not seem promising.
Over the next century, the globally averaged surface air temperature is projected to warm between 2.7 and a mind-boggling 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The projections point to a global sea level rise between 0.3 and 2.9 feet, with the potential to inundate some low-level areas. The report also reviews a host of studies linking climate change to global health impacts, ecosystem changes, and economic effects. It does cite certain positive effects of increasing temperatures, but they are vastly outweighed by enormous negative impacts, particularly to the world's poor.
Next to the 1000-page IPCC assessment, the last few weeks were also filled with media reports of anecdotal evidence--extreme weather events that are projected to become more frequent as overall temperatures rise. Most notably, Mt. Kilimanjaro's ice cap, which has towered for millennia over Kenya and Tanzania's plains, is now melting and is expected to disappear within 15 years. Kilimanjaro is not alone in losing its snows--glaciers from the Alps to the Andes will disappear at a frightening rate--but the Kilimanjaro ice cap has been a valuable source of water for the surrounding areas and will be a particularly damaging loss.
Until very recently, it seemed unlikely that President George W. Bush would take to heart these signs of things to come. After all, throughout his campaign he had rejected as "unfair to Americans" the Kyoto Protocol, a reasonable 1997 agreement among industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and he has been very quiet on this issue since moving into the White House.
There is, however, some cause for hope. Christine Todd Whitman, whom Bush selected to run the Environmental Protection Agency, attended a G8 (a group of the eight leading economic superpowers) meeting in Trieste, Italy, over the weekend and discussed the issue of global warming. According to Whitman, at least, the president views global climate change as "the greatest environmental challenge that we face" and wants to "take steps to move forward."
We are glad to hear that the Bush administration takes climate change seriously. But what is important now is to translate these international promises into national policy. The energy bills now moving through Congress should incorporate measures to decrease emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The almost single-minded focus of the current proposals on increasing the production of fossil fuels--as seen in the misguided drive to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--should not be allowed to crowd out measures for reducing energy demand, such as increasing the fuel efficiency of new cars or issuing incentives for better insulation of new homes. These measures would fulfill the same energy and national security goals, and they would be more economically (as well as environmentally) sound.
We urge the Bush administration to stick to its promise of moving forward on the issue of global climate change. A smarter national energy policy would be a much-needed first step.
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