Hot times ahead

October 16, 2005

Warnings are coming loud and clear now.

Global temperatures have been rising for a quarter-century, and 2005 is on track to set another record high. Arctic Sea ice is shrinking at such a dramatic rate that polar bears might soon become an endangered species. Massive hurricanes, already punishing coastlines with increasing frequency, took a horrifying toll this summer on the Gulf Coast. In a puckish irony, Hurricane Katrina even kicked up a ruckus by disrupting the nation's supply of gasoline - a major contributor to the warming trend because it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when it's burned for fuel.

Soaring fuel costs finally got the nation's attention. But the reaction from the Bush administration and Congress has been the opposite of what nature was signaling should be done.

Policymakers should be seizing this opportunity to promote fuel conservation, demand greater efficiency from carbon combustion engines and redirect transportation resources away from building highways and into mass transit. Absurdly, what they are doing instead is mowing down environmental protections with the aim of increasing supplies of cheap gas so Americans can spew global warming pollutants into the atmosphere at an even faster rate.

The good news, in a perverse sense, is that the Gasoline for America's Security bill passed by the House last week with a Republican claim that it would keep gasoline prices low is a fraud. Oil refiners, who are making huge profits from soaring pump prices, have no incentive to increase gasoline supplies and lower costs - no matter what regulatory and legal barriers are removed as inducements. Conservation remains the best answer for the budget-conscious.

But with evidence of global warming and man's contribution to it mounting daily, it's shocking that the federal government refuses to take a more constructive approach.

Much of the resistance has come from advocates for industries and workers who fear pollution curbs will hurt profits and cost jobs. That notion is not only short-sighted, it seems hopelessly outmoded.

With or without the United States' official acknowledgment, the global environment is changing. Perhaps little can be done to stop or reverse it, but there are surely better ways the nation can adapt than gassing up like there's no tomorrow.

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