Warm up

November 03, 2003

THE ICE CAP at the North Pole has shrunk by 20 percent over the past two decades, government scientists say. Just in the past two years, a 3,000-year-old ice shelf over northern Canada broke into pieces.

Closer to home, there are plenty of other signs that the earth is heating up. Sea levels are rising. Droughts are more frequent. Violent storms, such as Isabel this year, are becoming more frequent.

Is this just a natural, cyclical process, or is mankind speeding it up by spewing so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the planet is becoming a greenhouse?

By a majority of 55 to 43, the Senate effectively declared last week that too many doubts remain to take the bold step of imposing caps on the emission of greenhouse gases from utilities and other industrial sources.

But the minority vote on a proposal by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut was substantial enough--and bipartisan enough--to suggest the country may almost be ready to confront the problem of global warming in earnest.

It's about time. The longer we wait, the more difficult and costly the job is going to be.

Oklahoma Senator James M. Inhofe ridicules warnings of catastrophic floods and droughts as the product of "flawed science." He said blaming the warming trend on human activities could be "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

A fast friend of the fossil fuel industry, Sen. Inhofe contends the economic cost of curbing carbon emissions is too high for such a questionable return.

What if he is wrong? A recent MIT study estimated the cost of the Senate proposal at $20 per U.S. household annually, compared to the $160 per American a year a U.N. study said global warming is exacting through the loss of cropland, fish stocks and other resources.

Polls show Americans are increasingly alarmed about the prospect of global warming, and supportive of steps to curb greenhouse emissions, such as higher mileage requirements for cars.

What's more, Sen. McCain points out that two major corporations--DuPont and British Petroleum--found that reducing their polluting emissions resulted in millions of dollars worth of direct cost savings.

Human ingenuity has proven time and again that it can meet the challenge of providing cleaner, more efficient technology.

All we have to do is ask.

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