by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
April 6, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- As I write this, in the first week of April,it's hard=
to take the notion of global warming seriously. There's stillthree feet of= snow sitting in my yard -- the product of one of the coldestand snowiest w= inters in Vermont in years.
But extreme weather has been the calling card of climate change.Winter h= ere started with a thunderstorm and torrential rains that washedout my dirt= driveway. Then the temperature dropped below freezing inmid-December and n= ever got above freezing for more than a day or two attime. There was no Jan= uary thaw this year. Instead we got major snowstormsin February and March e= ach dumped three feet of snow. And now, when thecrocuses and daffodils shou= ld be starting to come up, there is more snow onthe ground than there has e= ver been in Vermont in April.
Weather in New England, and in Vermont in p= articular, can beunpredictable and vary wildly. In my lifetime, I've seen 9= 0 degree temperatures in April and days in the 40s in July. I've seen snows= torms inMay and October and thundershowers in February. I've seen storms wh= ere theprecipitation has gone from rain, to sleet, to snow and back to rain= in amatter of five minutes. I've seen two straight weeks of heavy rain an= d dryspells that have lasted months.
But the extremes of New England weather have gotten more extreme in rece= nt years. And it's not like we are alone. The glaciers in Alaska's Glacier National Park are almost gone and the Arctic ice pack has thinned by 40 per= cent in the last decade. Sea levels are rising and a quarter of the Equator= 's coral reefs are dying from rising ocean temperatures. The snow atop Moun= t Kilimanjaro is melting and tropical diseases are popping up in the Northe= rn Hemisphere. There are more hurricanes, floods and cyclones, and more dro= ughts -- enough of them to have caused more than $600 billionof damage worl= dwide in the 1990s.
Scientific research has concluded definitively that Earth's temperature has risen 1.1 degrees in the last 100 years and that the burning of fossil fuels has a great deal to do with that fact. TheIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's leadinggroup of climate scientists, has predicted Earth could warm another 2.7-11 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 10= 0 years.
If the low end of IPCC's estimate came true, Americans would seethings such as more frequent and longer heat waves in cities, malarialoutbreaks in= the Southeast, the near extinction of maple trees in theNortheast and incr= eased flooding of coastal areas. If the high end isreached, we would be in deep ecological trouble.
But the best scientific minds in the world are no match for thedimwitted= Texan in the White House and his deep-pocketed friends from thebig oil and= coal companies.
President Bush has chosen to ignore the sentiments of mostAmericans and the world at large regarding the environment. Within a fewdays of the Europ= ean Union's reaffirmation of the Kyoto Protocol -- the1997 agreement by mor= e than 100 nations to reduce the greenhouse gases thatcontribute to global warming -- the Bush administration announced that itwas repudiating Kyoto b= ecause it was, in the words of Bush spokesman Art Fleischer, "not in the Un= ited States' economic best interest."
Given the intransigence of the Republicans in the Senate, whichnever rat= ified the deal, Bush's ditching of the treaty was no real surprise-- especi= ally given his pro-business, pro-Big Oil stance. That still didn'tstop the rest of the world being outraged over the decision.
Our friends in Europe= , who are particularly angered at Bush'sactions, are not going to wait arou= nd for our nation to act. While noEuropean country has ratified the Kyoto p= rotocol, Denmark, the Netherlandsand Germany have all pledged cutbacks of 2= 0-50 percent in greenhouse gasesin the next decade. Europe, which has been a leader in energy conservation technologies, will further extend its lead over the fossil fuel-addicted U.S.
The U.S. has just 4 percent of the world's population, but creates 25 pe= rcent of the world's greenhouse gases. That why the Kyoto Protocol putstric= ter limits on the U.S. than developing nations. We produce the mostpollutio= n, and also have the means to reduce it. But the Bush team isignoring that reality out of fear it might hurt our economy (and thecorporations that bac= ked Bush) in the long run.
Fortunately, not every corporation is irresponsible. British Petroleum (= BP), which also happens to be the world's largest vendor ofsolar energy sys= tems, expects to sell $1 billion of solar products annuallyby 2010. Shell i= s investing $500 billion in renewable energy, and along with BP, has pledge= d to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent -- double the Kyoto target level. Even DuPont has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions= by 65 percent. Texaco has made large investments in fuel cell technology, while Ford and Daimler/Chrysler are working on a joint venture to produce f= uel cell-powered cars by 2004.
These companies, and others like them, are= n't dumb. They know that a properly structured program of solar, wind and h= ydrogen-based energy sources could create millions of jobs and raise the st= andards of living for developing nations with lowering ours.
But it's not just a matter of economics. Some scientists estimate we hav= e only about 20 years to either substantially greenhouse gases or face a qu= adrupling of carbon levels in the atmosphere. The modest 5-7 percent cuts c= alled for by the Kyoto protocol won't be nearly enough to accomplish this.=
To appease the oil companies that elected him, President Bush is willing= to risk the heath and safety of the entire world for generations tocome. A= nd some wonder why the whole world hates the U.S.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).