17
Sep
2004

The Fact of Global Warming

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-ed-emissions12sep12,1,5328353.story

The Union of Concerned Scientists plans to release a study Monday explaining the ways global warming is changing California. The report predicts a rise in average summer temperatures of up to 5.5 degrees by mid-century, far higher than previous studies have projected. Even the scientists' most optimistic scenario, a temperature rise of only 2 degrees, could cause a host of economically damaging effects, such as the premature ripening of wine grapes.

Already, global warming is drying up water sources (such as the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is melting earlier than usual). It may also be helping some tropical diseases, such as West Nile virus, migrate north.

California may soon become the first state to curb vehicle tailpipe emissions, which after power plant emissions are the key fossil-fuel pollutants responsible for the rapid acceleration of global warming. On Sept. 23, the state's Air Resources Board is scheduled to order that new vehicles sold in the state cut their greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016. California, however, will get nowhere without Washington's help, and that doesn't seem forthcoming. Congress, apparently buying into the ridiculous junk-science argument that global warming is a natural phenomenon that people can do little to thwart, is poised to pass spending bills for fiscal 2005 that will only worsen the problem.

Legislators should reconsider in light of a study presented to them Aug. 25 by President Bush's own science advisor and the secretaries of Energy and Commerce. It concluded that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, not Mother Nature, had caused most of the increase in temperatures around the globe over the last three decades. Last month, various science officials abroad, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair's top science advisor, former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Canada's environment minister, went even further, characterizing global warming as a far greater threat in the coming decades than terrorism.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should use his new pull with Bush to pressure Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a vote on the Climate Stewardship Act. This modest and pragmatic bill, which McCain co-authored with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), would require U.S. industrial plants to cut pollution from burning fossil fuels to 2000 levels by 2010.

More immediately, Congress should stop the phaseout of the tax deduction given to people who buy hybrid cars. The deduction started at $2,000 in 2002, but dropped to $1,500 this year and will fall to nothing in 2007 without new funding. Meanwhile, current tax rules heap obscene rewards on those who drive the least fuel-efficient cars on the road. One tax break, for example, gives business owners a deduction of up to $100,000 if they buy SUVs weighing 6,000 pounds or more. The $2 billion over 10 years that it would take to fully restore funding for the "clean"-hybrid tax deduction could be found by nixing some of the $9 billion in tax incentives that pending appropriations bills give to the "dirty" oil and gas industries.

Those opposed to decisive measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions argue that even if all of them were enacted tomorrow, they would still only slow, not stop, global warming. Even if that's true, it's no excuse for inaction. As any successful insurance executive will attest, risk may be unavoidable but dangers can be foreseen and thwarted. Or to put it more colloquially, it's cheaper to be safe than sorry.


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