Head in the (hot) sand

As we watch forest fires burning large parts of drought-ravaged Colorado this week, we might ask ourselves: Which is more dangerous, terrorism or global warming? And which deserves the more-serious response?

Reasonable people can disagree about that, but most would agree that both are world-shaking problems. The Bush administration’s response to them is way out of whack, however.

To counter terrorism, we’re seeing a mobilization unlike any since the Vietnam War—waging a war in Afghanistan, spending billions on increased security measures, and now proposing to make the most sweeping organizational changes in the U.S. government since the 1940s.

Meanwhile, the heat is on, with record high temperatures throughout the northern latitudes and fires burning in Colorado and elsewhere, including Butte County. And what is the president doing about it? Absolutely nothing.

Recently, his own EPA issued a report acknowledging, finally, what mainstream scientists have been saying for years: that we human beings are causing global warming, and we Americans most of all. Within just a few years, the report says, we can expect significantly smaller snow packs, the destruction of coastal and mountain ecosystems and more-frequent heat waves. Long range, the losses will be even greater, including the possible flooding of low-lying cities and the transformation of whole climatic regions.

And yet the EPA report, instead of recommending a strong program to reduce greenhouse gases, suggests that we simply adapt to the changes—"get used to it,” in other words. The EPA posted its report at about the same time that Japan was ratifying the 1997 Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions and a week after the nations of Europe ratified the treaty.

Well, if the president won’t do anything, California should. As another recent report notes, global warming could result in the loss of up to 82 percent of the Sierra Nevada snow pack, on which the state depends for water. A bill—AB1058, by Agoura Hills Democrat Fran Pavley—that would require the Air Resources Board to set “feasible” emissions reduction targets for private cars has passed both the Assembly and Senate but is stalled in conference.

Reducing vehicular emissions is one of several steps, including increased energy conservation and expanding renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions without forcing significant life-style changes.

It’s noteworthy that the European nations are on target to reduce vehicular carbon-dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2008. New England states have pledged to reduce their emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same here. Maybe there’s still time to save that snow pack. After all, without water there won’t be much civilization here for terrorists to attack.