Global warming can be a local issue

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Did President Bush make two serious mistakes in late March by 1) reversing a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electric generating plants and 2) withdrawing from further consideration of accepting the Kyoto Protocol, by which the world's nations would begin reducing their CO2 emissions, primarily by reducing their consumption of fossil fuels?

He overruled and embarrassed his EPA Administrator, Ms. Whitman, and Treasury Secretary, Mr. O'Neill, who had spoken for federal action to reduce USA emissions of CO2, the principal "greenhouse gas."

And he casts USA as a "rogue nation," producing and exporting one-third of the world total of this instrument of mass pollution, CO2. We're indifferent to what the rest of the world has agreed is a big, serious, urgent problem: global warming and global climate change (GW/GCC). Other countries reacted harshly.

Was President Bush seriously mistaken? That depends:

On what he proposes, in his promised "energy strategy," to reduce USA's CO2 emissions. The president might transcend Kyoto to suggest, instead, a more aggressive and effective goal: a carbon dioxide emissions tax of about $100 per ton, on ALL fossil fuels.

On how well Juneau, as a local government and as individuals, assume the responsibility now devolved to us from the federal level, for reducing our fossil fuel consumption.

Several mayors, including Seattle's, are proposing to independently adopt the Kyoto Protocol, which would require USA to reduce its CO2 emissions to about 5 percent below our 1990 level, by 2010. Should Juneau follow suit?

But the Kyoto Protocol, if implemented, would be inadequate to stop global GW/GCC, the goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed at Earth Summit '92 by President Bush, Senior: "To prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-caused) interference with Earth's climate system."

Juneau's immediate opportunity and responsibility:

After three years' work, the Area Wide Transportation Plan (AWTP) draft is available for public comment. It does not consider energy or fuel at all. It adopts the Egan Development Plan, which would spend about $86 million converting Egan to a freeway, with overpasses at every intersection, to accommodate 40 percent more traffic by year 2020. Is this the kind of community we want? Is this Juneau's response to GW/GCC? Forty percent more traffic and fuel?

AWTP should require compact community design, reducing transportation needs and fuel use. It should seriously consider hydroelectric-powered transit, including light rail or other fixed-guideway systems, rather than encouraging more automobility. Our immediate opportunity and responsibility is to study this draft AWTP and improve it.

World consensus on the reality, cause and severity of GW/GCC is coalescing. John Browne, CEO of BP, said in his May '97 "climate change" speech:

"The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part. We in BP have reached that point. It is an important moment for us "

This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), over 1,000 climate scientists from over 100 nations, concurred in their Third Assessment Report (TAR):

Earth is warming and atmospheric CO2 concentration is increasing more rapidly than at any time in human history; global CO2 is now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years, and likely is higher than during the past 20 million years;

This warming is caused, at least in part, by human activity: about three-fourths by burning fossil fuels;

The expected range of global warming, by year 2100, is now 2 to 10 degrees F. Global temperature rise of this magnitude will have severe to catastrophic results for humanity and the ecosystems of which we are a part, and upon whose well-being we depend for our survival;

We will need to reduce human-source (anthropogenic) CO2 emissions to a small fraction of their present level to prevent major continued warming.

Until President Bush or Congress takes responsibility, that obligation to begin immediately to greatly reduce CO2 emissions devolves upon Juneau, and you and me. If we adequately accept this challenge, President Bush might be proven wise, rather than brash.

Where better to start than Juneau's AWTP? Must we repeat the Lower 48's mistakes, overwhelmed by automobility? Shall we seriously consider, for the first time, an elegant hydroelectric-powered transit system? Shall we design the compact, quiet, walkable "European" community that Juneau could be? Get the AWTP draft now, dig in and respond:

Bill Leighty has lived in Juneau 30 years and is a former member of CBJ Energy Advisory Committee; is a small business owner; and has BSEE and MBA degrees.

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