Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the nation’s leading expert on global warming, says we have less than 10 years to significantly decrease the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. He made that statement last summer, the first anniversary is coming up, which means 10 percent of the time we have to fix Our Worst Problem Ever will be gone with no progress made.

Two primary sources of greenhouse gases are the fossil fuel (coal, mostly) we burn to make electricity and the fossil fuel (oil, mostly) we burn to move things around.

We still use huge amounts of each; we leave the lights on at home while we drive around.

There are initiatives. In New York City and Washington, DC, mayors Michael Bloomberg and Adrian Fenty, respectively, have suggested “congestion pricing” for clogged urban centers. “Congestion pricing” charges drivers to enter the center city during times of heaviest congestion. If the price is high enough it will convince some drivers to become public transit riders and thus reduce traffic jams. The theory then supposes there will be fewer cars burning significantly less gas, because of less gridlock idling. The tactic has been successful in London and Stockholm. Mayor Bloomberg also announced plans to convert New York’s entire taxi fleet to hybrid cars by 2012. Both congestion pricing and hybrids are nice ideas; the combination is not likely to get either city anywhere near the CO2 reductions needed to beat Dr. Hansen’s deadline.

Last week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by two Republican governors,
California’s Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Connecticut’s Jodi Rell. They blasted the Bush Environmental Protection Agency because it has, for over a year (and now in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling) blocked their states from enacting progressive tailpipe-emission standards designed to fight global warming.

Here in Vermont, a 16-day federal trial recently concluded in which state attorneys slugged it out with lawyers representing the auto industry. Vermont wants to adopt California’s emission standards and the automakers say such standards are impossible to meet.

Witnesses for the automakers testified that emissions cannot be curtailed without burning less gas, in other words, raising Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) standards and only Congress, not states, can raise CAFÉ standards. This is more or less EPA’s argument with California and Connecticut. (Congress, of course, is too corrupted and compromised to save us from ourselves.) The engineers for the (not so) Big Three swore under oath that they just don’t have the competence to get the job done. It was like watching an Alberto Gonzales management seminar. The Vermont case
waits the judge’s ruling; if he decides on behalf of the state, the automakers will surely appeal. What are the chances the case will work through the courts by 2016?

In the Vermont legislature, fighting global warming was supposed to be the priority for the 2007 session. A “gas guzzler tax” was proposed and shot down early. In the end, lawmakers passed a bill raising taxes on Entergy, the Louisiana-based corporation that owns Vermont’s only nuclear energy facility. The tax dollars would be used to help make businesses and homes more energy efficient – saving Vermonters money and cutting our energy use. Jim Douglas, our Republican governor, says he’ll veto. He knows where his constituency lies and it ain’t in Vermont.

If legislators cannot override the veto (it looks like a long shot), it means
Vermont will have made exactly no progress on global warming in 2007. Maybe we’ll get something by the second anniversary of Dr. Hansen’s warning, but 2008 is an election year, so don’t expect much.

Speaking at the National Press Club earlier this year, Dr. Hansen noted that a)
we’re within the 10-year window during which we need to decrease our emissions, b)we need to stop building coal-fired power plants NOW, c) we have to put a tax on carbon emissions and d) we need national energy efficiency standards for cars and buildings.

He didn’t say that e) to get this done, we’ll need a majority of courageous people in politics. Right now, we don’t even have a recognizable minority. It seems the only mistake we haven’t yet made is to name this the “War on Global Warming,” so it can become a farce like the “War on Poverty,” the “War on Drugs” or the “Global War on Terror.” We might not call it a war but failure on the global warming front will result in devastation similar to war – ruined cities, dead citizens, refugees and economic hardship.

© Mark Floegel, 2007


Comments are closed.