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Fuzzy Climate Change

For some, global warming is still a fuzzy issue. President Bush told us he’d take global warming seriously in his election speeches, but later reneged on his promises. He also pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that it would hurt the U.S. economy.

A few years ago the former oilman finally conceded that climate change was really happening and that it was due to human activity. But he also echoed a few critics’ voices by saying that we’re not really sure why it’s happening, so we can’t act. Again, he claimed the good ol’ economy might get hurt.

But now things are really heating up.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, comprising scientists and government officials from 113 countries, released a report blaming humans for rising global temperatures. Human activity has been one of the main causes for global warming since 1950, according to the report. “The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture,” the report reads.

It goes on to state, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.”

What’s in store? As you’d predict, in the next century we’ll see changes in temperatures, precipitation patterns, and sea levels. This will include droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves, and extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones.

Stay tuned. This may or may not get our president’s attention.

But if it really is about the economy, why didn’t these people get Bush’s attention? The United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) released a report calling on the federal government to enact legislation to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The group, which includes corporate leaders from such companies as GE, is not made up of all environmentalists, mind you.

At the USCAP press conference, leaders from Lehman Brothers, Caterpillar, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, PG&E, PNM Resources, GE, FPL Group, Environmental Defense, DuPont, Duke Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Resources Institute, and Alcoa gathered to talk about what they called “a global problem that requires a global response.” Given that the report was released right before the State of the Union Address, it was as though they were saying to Bush, “Hey, pssst, listen: this will help the economy.”

Peter Darby of PG&E Corporation stated that, “Our emissions far eclipse those of any other nation in the world and so we are undeniably part of the problem.” He urged the U.S. to become part of the international discussion.

These business leaders find the science so compelling that they’re proposing that there is more economic benefit than economic risk in finding solutions to global warming. For them limiting greenhouse gases is good for energy security, strengthening America’s ability to compete in tomorrow’s markets. Putting America in a strong leadership role means the US can shape the global response to global warming.

One of their proposals includes mandating a cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Those companies who could reduce most cheaply would do it and sell their emissions credits to companies having trouble. (This is already happening in Europe as well as many U.S. cities, but it is still voluntary.) This market-driven approach would create incentives for companies to become cleaner. This would in turn stimulate investment and innovation in new technology for energy efficiency, renewable power, solar, and wind.

Not everyone will agree with USCAP’s climate action principles, but you’d think Bush might have given it a chance.

Of course, at the State of the Union Address it never came up. He briefly talked about renewable fuels like ethanol, but said nothing about mandatory limits on carbon emissions.

As Bush continues to evade the issue, leaders from around the world, U.S. environmental and corporate leaders, politicians, and the American people are stepping up. In Congress the issue is actually gathering bipartisan momentum. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is setting up a committee to produce legislation by this summer. But Bush ignores it all.

As the reports pile up, I have to ask: when will our president choose to have clarity?