About the weather …

It’s time to face facts: Climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s going to get worse. Bold action is needed, and we’re pleasantly surprised—even proud—to see California set to take a leadership role.

As Sacramento slowly dries out from a winter that included record high temperatures in February followed by weeks of drenching rainstorms, mudslides and floods, it’s sobering to note that virtually every region of the country has suffered some form of extreme weather over the course of the past year.

At least 214 climate records were tied or broken during 2005, the hottest year on record. The most conspicuous, costly and tragic aspect of this was surely the Atlantic hurricane season, which saw a record 26 named storms and the incredible devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which caused $50 billion in insured damages and killed more than 1,200. But the signs of climate change have been all around us, from wildfires in Texas to tornadoes in the Midwest to melting glaciers in Montana.

A few decades ago, such things might have been written off as natural variations in weather patterns. Not anymore. With 19 of the hottest years on record occurring since 1980, it’s become clear that something very ominous is happening. The Earth is warmer than it’s been in 2,000 years, and it’s warming at a faster rate than at any time in history. Climate change is occurring before our very eyes, and most sensible people have long since accepted the scientific consensus that change is being driven by a build-up of “greenhouse” gases released by the burning of fossil fuels.

That’s why it’s so gratifying to see our state government taking new steps to roll back greenhouse-gas emissions. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the Legislature both have produced plans to require a 25-percent cut in emissions by 2020.

For a number of reasons, this is the right thing to do. California is the 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so new standards here are far from insignificant. Moreover, the state has much to lose if global warming continues: Diminishing Sierra snowpacks could mean the loss of almost half the state’s water supply, unstable weather and water shortages could wreak havoc on the agricultural economy, and higher temperatures could make smog 25 percent to 75 percent worse in Los Angeles and the Central Valley, to name just a few specifics.

More importantly, the new standards would set an example of responsibility and leadership at a time when the United States appears desperately short of both qualities. With the Bush administration still in denial about climate change, and with the United States still refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol and commit to nationwide emissions reductions, the establishment of new emissions standards in California would be a gesture of potential historic significance. We urge our governor and state Legislature to work together to make these new standards a reality.