Global Warming: Is Time Running Out?

NWF   |   June 21, 2006

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush finally admitted that America is addicted to oil. He is partly right. Actually, we are addicted to fossil fuels, which include natural gas and coal as well. That addiction leads to a dangerous buildup of greenhouse gas pollution in our atmosphere, threatens our national security, weakens our economy and jeopardizes our children’s future.

Few Americans and frighteningly few Washington political leaders comprehend how very little time we have left to act before we lose control of global warming. Neither major political party has set global warming as a priority. Within our children’s lifetime the planet, under current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, will hit a tipping point that can trigger runaway global warming.

The Arctic has already lost 40 percent of its ice by volume, 20 percent by surface, drastically increasing absorption of solar heat up north as sunlight-reflecting ice vanishes. The region has warmed 5 degrees F, largely a result of retreating ice. Greenland’s glaciers are sliding toward the sea and calving twice as fast as they did 5 years ago. A study published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Science reported that 87 percent of 244 Antarctic Peninsula glaciers have retreated during the past 50 years.

Russian scientists warn that 70 to 80 billion tons of methane and other carbon compounds, with 20 times carbon dioxide’s heat trapping capacity per molecule, may soon escape into the atmosphere as permafrost thaws in Siberia. This release could trigger catastrophic increases in global warming.

All over the world, insects are killing millions of acres of forest because winter freeze no longer occurs to slow the insects. In the United States, native bark beetles are striking millions of trees, yielding unprecedented forest diebacks.

Based on such changes, leading scientists are issuing warnings that we now have less than 10 years to curb carbon dioxide emissions. James Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has warned that if we do not get a grip on this threat, we will create a fundamentally "different planet."

Little wonder. We have embarked on a massive planetary experiment outside the range of human experience, putting nearly a trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the past 150 years, raising atmospheric CO2 levels by more than 36 percent.

The good news is that we still have time to act to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis-if we act now. By tackling global warming pollution, entrepreneurs, investors, farmers and laborers will all prosper. You can help by urging lawmakers to make global warming an urgent priority. Ask them to adopt thoughtful programs and solutions, such as:

  • 25 X ’25, an agricultural strategy to derive 25 percent of U.S. energy from farms by 2025 through use of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy sources;
  • The 2030 Plan, a carbon-neutral standard for designing and retrofitting buildings, supported by the American Institute of Architecture and the Conference of Mayors, to be implemented by 2030;
  • Updated motor vehicle fuel-efficiency standards that apply to all classes of vehicles to reduce gasoline consumption;
  • Standards to ensure that all new electric power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions at least 80 percent below other plants;
  • Cap-and-trade programs that stimulate innovation and least-cost carbon-reduction solutions; and
  • Tax code reforms that provide incentives for private capital investment in energy innovation, efficiency and conservation.

Collectively, some combination of these actions could be fashioned into a rational national energy policy that cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 2 percent of current emissions in each of the next 40 years to meet the CO2-reduction goal for which most published climate scientists are calling.

Congress will not move on global warming until America moves on global warming. When the people lead, political "leaders" follow. You need to lead in your community.

By: Larry Schweiger

Published: June 21, 2006