U.S. stands alone in freeze on global warming pact
A symposium in Kona, marking early research on global warming, preceded a U.N. convention on strengthening a climate treaty.
Fifty years ago, in defiance of conventional scientific wisdom, Charles David Keeling set up a monitoring station on Mauna Loa to sample the air for carbon dioxide levels. Today, Keeling's work is recognized as the foundation of the science on global warming. His novel thinking, noted at a symposium in Kona last week, should be a paradigm for courses of action to stem destructive increases in greenhouse gases.
The symposium, at which a participant called for a Manhattan Project approach to curb climate change, served as a prelude to an important United Nations conference that began Monday in Indonesia. Thousands of delegates from almost 190 countries are gathered in Bali in hopes of moving forward an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Just as pollutants know no borders, curbing them requires worldwide action. Unfortunately, the United States has stymied the effort, a deplorable situation. The country that is the largest source of heat-trapping gases stands alone among nations categorized "industrial" powers, refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the pact that sets mandatory limits on emissions.
The treaty, though flawed and contentious, is the most practicable tack to combat global warming that has triggered rising ocean levels from Pacific islands to Bangladesh and India to the Arctic regions of North America. But revising and extending it has been stymied by the Bush administration's objections.
The president last week declared that the United States "must lead the world" in cutting emissions, but without undermining economic growth. However, he has proposed no specifics and has failed to acknowledge -- unlike his usual big businesses allies such as Chevron and General Electric -- that climate change threatens economies worldwide. Indeed, though they are maintaining a low-profile presence at the conference, American and European businesses see mandatory limits as key to their long-term financial health and stability.
As matters now stand, the chief goal of the conference will be to persuade the United States to sign on in hopes that the most powerful nation on the planet can likewise draw in China and India -- who are currently exempt from emission limits, but whose accelerated growth has produced increasing amounts of pollutants.
That outcome is unlikely and advocates concede they will have to wait until Bush leaves office for U.S. participation. States, cities, industries and individual businesses are moving ahead with their own efforts, but a coordinated endeavor would be more effective and time is short.
Though experts at the Hawaii symposium predict average temperatures will probably rise about 6 degrees this century, they cannot say for certain that the average will prevail everywhere, nor what the consequences will be.