Environmental Buck Private

It's not been hot in Vermont this summer. It's been wet, but not hot. According to my utility bill, the average temperature was 66 in July, down three degrees from a year ago. As one who hates the sweat and swelter of summer heat, I can live with that.

Nor have the thunderstorms been particularly violent. No squall lines or hail stones coming in from the west or up and down the Connecticut River Valley; no downed trees or mangled corn. This may change in the next few days with Bonnie and Charlie moving north. (And don't the hurricane-namers wish they had named "Charlie" "Clyde"). But so far the summer has been mild and easy.

So maybe the Bush administration is right. Global warming is a science fiction fantasy. God loves SUVs. Fossil fuels are good and good for you. There's no need for government to fund a crash program on clean energy.

But wait! Elsewhere across the planet the climate is heating up. New research indicates that the Greenland icecap is melting ten-times faster than previously thought. The polar icecaps, north and south, are also shrinking. And in mountainous regions, glaciers are melting.

A recent lead article in Business Week (8/16/04), not previously known as a green, tree-hugging environmentalist magazine, begins, "Consensus is growing among scientists, governments, and business that they must act fast to combat climate change." Man-made greenhouse gases produced mostly by fossil-based fuels are chiefly responsible. "Get serious about global warming -- or be prepared for the consequences," Business Week concludes.

What are the consequences? "Even if the world manages to make big cuts in [greenhouse gas] emissions soon," the article states, "the earth will still warm several more degrees in coming decades, most climate scientists believe. That could slash agricultural yields, raise sea levels, and bring more extreme weather." The one upside, I suppose (in the satirical spirit of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal), is that global warming will solve the problem of Florida elections as the entire state, chads and all, will disappear under water -- along with Long Island, Cape Cod, New Orleans, and, British scientists say, the city of London.

A more horrendous scenario, considered as possible by a growing number of scientists, is cataclysmic climate change taking place over a couple of decades. "There is a real potential for sudden and perhaps catastrophic change," Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is quoted in Business Week as saying. "The fact that we are uncertain may actually be a reason to act sooner rather than later."

The European Union, some corporations, and a growing number of politicians are heeding the warnings of the scientific community. Next year, the European Union will impose mandatory caps on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Germany already gets 4.5% of its energy from wind power and other European countries are publicly investing in wind, solar and other clean alternatives to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, there is growing bipartisan support for political action. "The facts are there," says Senator John McCain (R-AZ). "We have to educate our fellow citizens about climate change and the danger it poses to the world." McCain's biggest challenge is to educate George W. Bush on the subject. The Bush administration chooses to listen to the advice of oil industry lobbyists rather than non-industry affiliated scientists and researchers.

Those who do not believe that there is a substantial difference between Bush and John Kerry and between the Republican and Democratic Parties ought to look hard at their respective environmental policies. The Bush administration believes the issue of global warming still needs study. And if there is a problem, free markets (along with tax subsidies for oil drillers, drilling in environmentally-fragile areas, and an interventionist military policy to assure an international supply of oil) will solve everything.

John Kerry, whom the League of Conservation Voters calls "an environmental champion," has a long history of environmental concern. Whereas the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Treaty, a modest first-step by the countries of the world to deal with global warming, Kerry promises to "reengage" with the international community.

On August 6, Kerry offered a ten-year, $30 billion plan for clean energy and energy independence. The plan includes tax credits to consumers to purchase clean burning, energy efficient cars and funding for research and development. As Kerry notes, Europe is far ahead of the United States in the utilization of alternative energy sources. This has produced jobs for European workers and, in the long run, will provide European industry with competitive advantages.

Kerry's program would fund research into hydrogen fuel cell technology, as well as wind, solar and other forms of alternative energy. There are many exciting possibilities, including harnessing the tides of such waterways as the Cape Cod Canal and New York City's East River.

The United States was always the leader of technological innovation, but this is not a subject that inspires the Bush administration, members of which prefer oil industry cronyism to public support for energy and industrial innovation.

George W. Bush touts his role as commander-in-chief as reason enough to vote for him, but he's nothing but a buck private, a real slacker, when it comes to understanding or even being interested in environmental issues such as climate change and global warming. To Bush, science is something to be manipulated to win the support of core constituencies like the oil industry and the creationists of the Christian fundamentalist community.

In the long run, climate change is a greater threat to the world than terrorism, according to Sir David King, chief science adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, as quoted in the Business Week article. "Delaying action for a decade, or even just years," he insists, "is not a serious option."

When it comes to global warming and environmental protection, the American people have a clear-cut choice in the November election.

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