U.S. must join the world on cleaner energy

February 16, 2005|By Mike Tidwell

TODAY, 140 NATIONS from around the world, including Japan and all of Europe, will begin helping Maryland stave off potential economic and environmental disaster.

All 140 want to protect Maryland's fishing industry and farms and its many tourism assets. All 140 nations want to slow the spread of Lyme disease and West Nile virus while giving Maryland's children cleaner air to breathe.

Today, the Kyoto treaty on global warming assumes the force of law in a majority of the world's nations. By mandating a significant and precise reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through the adoption of clean energy and efficiency standards, the treaty will begin to protect Maryland -- and every other state and country -- from the negative impacts of global climate disruption.

The bad news is that our own country is not among the 140. Our own government, heavily dominated by a fossil-fuel lobby with close ties to the Bush administration, stands in near total diplomatic isolation. President Bush has rejected the Kyoto process, saying it would harm the U.S. economy. He's committing our nation instead -- unthinkably -- to a policy of burning substantially more, not less, oil and coal and natural gas.

Many American conservatives continue to ridicule the very idea of global warming. To these critics, Kyoto signatories such as Canada and Britain simply have it all wrong. Japan and New Zealand have swallowed "junk science." Russia and South Africa are just plain suckers. So what are Americans to believe?

The Bush administration firmly settled this issue. Mr. Bush asked the National Academy of Sciences in 2001 to examine human-induced climate change. The NAS reply: The basic science of global warming is solid. Human activity will warm the planet 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, and the consequences could be alarming.

The Bush administration reported to the United Nations in 2002, using data from 10 federal agencies to conclude that serious warming was guaranteed in the next few decades because so much carbon dioxide -- which can linger in the atmosphere for a century -- had already been released from fossil-fuel combustion. As a result, Southeastern forests and snow-dependent Western rivers could be severely degraded. Assateague Island National Seashore could disappear because of a rise in sea level.

The rising sea level is accelerating the profound shoreline erosion all along the Chesapeake Bay. The Eastern Shore's Blackwater Wildlife Refuge lost a third of its marshes in the 20th century largely because of a warming-induced rise in water. Maryland farmers report unprecedented floods and droughts in recent years, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says agricultural yields could drop a shocking 42 percent in the state with more warming.

Marylanders may be grateful to the rest of the world for acting on global warming despite U.S. intransigence. But a problem remains: America generates 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. So the 140 Kyoto nations cannot, by themselves, make the 80 percent cut in global greenhouse gases many scientists say is needed. The United States must join Kyoto immediately.

Thankfully, America is blessed with great clean energy potential. Texas and the Dakotas have enough wind power that can be harnessed to provide America with all of its electricity. And 100 miles square of sunny Nevada desert covered with solar panels could do the same. Hybrid cars, meanwhile, are already here, and hydrogen cars may be on the way. And studies show that clean energy creates more jobs and more wealth than fossil-fuel use. In Pennsylvania, former coal miners are operating commercial wind farms.

Given all this, Mr. Bush's assertion that the Kyoto process would harm our economy starts to sound like the whine of a doomed fossil-fuel industry -- which it is. What could be a bigger threat to our economy and national security than global warming combined with our overdependence on foreign sources of oil that are quickly running out anyway?

Clearly there's another way: a clean energy future. Today, 140 nations have opened the door. All we have to do is walk through it.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network based in Takoma Park, is the author of Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast.

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