So what can we do about global
First, keep in mind the goal, which
is to bring the potentially catastrophic warming under control by
curtailing the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into
Ordinary people can help immediately by becoming more energy efficient. Stop using the familiar incandescent light bulbs and replace them
with compact fluorescent bulbs,
which last much longer and use only a
quarter of the energy consumed by
Compact fluorescent bulbs are significantly more expensive, but because they last so long (up to 10 times
the life of a standard bulb) and use so
little electricity, they are substantially cheaper in the long run.
Next, when shopping for an appliance -- a refrigerator, a dishwasher,
an air-conditioner -- select the one
with the highest energy efficiency rating. There will be a sticker on the
appliance, telling you how much energy it uses. Pay attention. There can be
a difference of 30 percent to 40 percent or more in the amount of energy
consumed by appliances with comparable features.
Even more important is the choice
you make in the car or truck you buy.
Motor vehicles are responsible for
about a third of the carbon dioxide
emissions in the United States. The
vehicles that are the most fuel efficient emit the least carbon dioxide.
(Fuel economy and carbon dioxide
emissions are inversely proportional.
If you double fuel economy, you cut
carbon dioxide emissions in half.)
According to the research and advocacy group Environmental Defense, if you buy a new car that gets 10
more miles per gallon than your old
car, the amount of carbon dioxide
reduction realized in one year will be
about 2,500 pounds.
So buying a car or truck that suits
your needs and is fuel efficient is a big
Honda and Toyota are bringing so-called hybrid vehicles onto the market in the U.S. Hybrids are cars that
combine an internal combustion engine and a battery-powered electric
motor. They are mid-sized cars that
are achieving twice the fuel economy
of conventional cars.
Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the
Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, summed the matter up as
follows: "The issue is not so much
what we are doing, but how we power
what we are doing. That's the first
Over the long term, the requirements are far more ambitious. Ideally, over the course of the next 100 or
so years, a transformation will take
place and most energy will end up
coming not from fossil fuels like coal
and oil, but from clean energy sources
-- the sun, the wind, hydrogen and
non-polluting fuel cells.
"To get there at a cost that's affordable will require substantial technological development," said Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, the chief scientist of Environmental Defense.
To move from our pollution-choked
present to a future in which climate
change is not a mortal threat will take
more than that all-important first
step of an enlightened citizenry buying cleaner cars and more efficient
appliances. Tough action by Congress
and the president is needed, and soon.
And international cooperation, with
enforceable agreements covering
both industrialized and, ultimately,
developing nations, will be crucial.
Among other things, the federal
government can offer subsidies and
other incentives to reduce the cost
and foster the use of existing clean-energy technology, and to encourage
the development of ever more efficient new technologies. And the government can -- and should -- develop
more sophisticated strategies like
emissions trading and more stringent
requirements for reducing carbon dioxide emissions everywhere.
Global warming is the most serious
problem we face in the 21st century.
Last week an intensive analysis by a
respected geologist at Texas A&M
University, suggested -- as most scientists have been saying for some
time now -- that human activity, not
natural factors, is the primary cause
of the warming.
We caused the problem and we
have within our grasp a variety of
potential solutions. To ignore those
solutions, to be aware of them but not
make use of them, is not just profoundly destructive, it's suicidal.
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company