Post-Bush mentality

December 14, 2005

America's refusal to accept binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions has been dismissed by leaders in most of the rest of the industrialized world as a temporary political blip.

From Europe to South America to the Pacific Rim, the calculation seems to be that obvious signs of global warming will combine with the good sense of the American people to demand that the United States assume what should be a leadership role in addressing this potentially grave environmental threat.

A gamble, to be sure - but one the world must win. Sacrifices around the globe to curb the burning of fossil fuels that run our cars, power plants and industries will likely have little impact unless the biggest polluter of all takes an ambitious part.

Actually, it's a compliment that nearly all of the world leaders meeting in Montreal this month to lay the groundwork for a new round of talks on greenhouse gas emissions refused to accept the Bush administration's foolish and shortsighted policy on global warming as representative of most Americans.

Granted, most of us are foolish and shortsighted. We drive big cars, use too much heat and air conditioning, and plug in a million gadgets that act like electricity vampires.

But we can see what's happening. Polar ice is shrinking, sea levels are rising, and the Earth has warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. Even Mr. Bush accepts that human activities have at least contributed to that.

He and others in his party fear the economic consequences of mandatory limits, though, and will agree to only voluntary steps. Former President Bill Clinton and other Americans contend the Bush view is selling good old American ingenuity short.

Surely there's money to be made in the transition to new forms of energy - and jobs to be filled that currently don't exist.

The Montreal agreement - by nearly every industrialized nation except the United States and Australia - to negotiate a new, preferably tighter, set of emission curbs to take effect in 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires was largely symbolic.

But it symbolized a global resolve to meet the threat of global warming head-on. Americans should quickly fulfill expectations and demand that their leaders show similar courage and determination.

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