NEW YORK - The signs are subtle, but ominous. The spring thaw
arrives in much of the United States about two weeks earlier than it did 50
years ago. Exotic tropical birds are nesting in Florida, and butterflies on
the west coast are fleeing north to escape the heat.
Climate change is already happening, scientists say, and will get much
worse unless something is done. If projected temperature increases of up to
10 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century come true, mid-western
agricultural states will suffer lost production, wildfires will ravage the
west, and the coasts will be inundated.
”Global warming is one of the most significant threats to our quality of
life,” Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski said bluntly last week.
Even as recognition of the problem grows, most states have given up looking
for guidance from Washington, which disputes the scientific consensus on
Instead, they are redoubling their own efforts to crack down on the
industries that produce greenhouse gases, and to begin the difficult shift
away from oil dependence to clean energy sources like wind and solar.
”Most states would probably like the federal government to take the lead,”
said Judi Greenwald of the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. ”These
programmes take a lot of resources to design and implement.”
”But to the extent that the absence of national leadership continues, more
and more will continue to set their own policies, including a growing trend
toward passing mandatory rules, as well as voluntary guidelines,” she said.
The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that directs nations to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, will take effect next February with its recent
approval by Russia's legislature.
However, U.S. President George W Bush has refused to submit the treaty to
Congress for ratification because he says it unfairly singles out
industrialised nations like the United States.
This country produces about one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases,
with Texas State alone regularly exceeding France in annual emissions.
Nearly every U.S. state now has programmes to reduce global warming
pollution, and many have moved to the next step by working together in
regional blocs. The most prominent projects include a cap-and-trade system
for carbon dioxide emissions from utilities, developed by nine northeastern
and mid-Atlantic states, and an alliance to boost energy efficiency and the
use of renewables in the power grids of 19 western states.
State initiatives tend to frame climate change as an economic opportunity
to produce alternative fuels, become renewable energy exporters, attract
high-tech business, and to reduce other kinds of pollution as well,
according to a Pew analysis that will be released in early December.
”The issue of global warming can be polarising when it's put out there all
by itself,” Greenwald said. ”There has been a lot of public support for
these (state) initiatives, partly because they are integrated with other
things people care about.”
Some states are seeking technological innovations to solve the problem. For
example, the Ohio Coal Development Office funds projects that capture and
sequester carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion, while the South
Carolina Hydrogen Coalition is promoting economic development by building
expertise in hydrogen technology.
Others are taking even stronger steps: for example, 16 states have mandated
that electric utilities -- which account for nearly one-third of greenhouse
gases -- generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources.
Last week, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington -- all west
coast states facing the prospect of rising sea levels -- announced 36
recommendations to fight global warming, including tightening emissions and
energy efficiency targets, investing in fleets of hybrid gas-electric
vehicles, and boosting retail energy sales from renewables at least one
percent a year through 2015.
As the programme matures, the governors plan to promote market-based carbon
trading and alternative fuels like hydrogen.
California has also taken a strong stance on tailpipe pollution, passing a
rule in September to force automakers to start selling vehicles that are 30
percent cleaner by 2016. The step makes it the first state to order a
mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions, although several
others, including New York and Massachusetts, intend to follow suit.
It remains to be seen whether vehicle makers, which have strenuously
opposed the plan as too expensive and with unproven benefits, will comply
or challenge it in court.
”We're evaluating all our options,” Eron Shosteck, director of
communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told IPS.
While environmental and consumer groups hope state initiatives will lay the
groundwork for a comprehensive national policy on curbing global warming
emissions, they are sceptical that Washington will change its tune anytime
Last week, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, announced a new plan to invest in companies that
control methane, a greenhouse gas. ”We're carrying forward an aggressive
programme of technology partnerships and international partnerships that
will reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the American economy by 18
percent,” he added.
However, critics noted that the target is entirely voluntary and represents
the same rate of reduction that has occurred over the past decade -- about
1.5 percent a year.
”The failure of policy-makers at the national level to address climate
change has created a very real political situation in which the public and
state politicians realise that they will have to compensate for this
inaction,” said Joe Mendelson, legal director of the International Centre
for Technology Assessment (ICTA), a non-profit group that examines how
technology affects society.
ICTA, along with more than a dozen environmental groups and 11 state
attorneys general, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
to force the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in new vehicles. A
decision is expected by next summer.
”The refusal to use the tools that we have, like the Clean Air Act, will
unfortunately lead to more and more confrontations and lawsuits,” Mendelson
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service