Warming to inaction

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

President Bush acknowledged this week that global warming is an important problem. He wants credit for coming, late, to that conclusion. But his proposed remedies continue to fall short. He's right that much of climate science remains shrouded in uncertainty, wrong to suggest that such uncertainty justifies the relative inaction he calls for. The problem is so potentially serious, and potentially so difficult to reverse, that the responsible course is to begin implementing change even as study continues.

The president Monday repeated his critique of the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement that was meant to begin reversing climate change - and that Mr. Bush rejected. Some of his assessment is valid. But once again President Bush left for later what concrete alternative he might have in mind. He acknowledged responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the United States emits between one-fifth and one-quarter of the global output. To help meet this obligation, he pointed to the parts of his energy plan that call for conservation, efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power, all of which would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But many of those proposals have yet to be fleshed out, and on the most important possible tool - a market-based system to limit gas emission - the president remains noncommital. A Cabinet-level group will continue considering that option along with others, he said.

The president acknowledges that temperatures are rising and human activity is contributing, and he called climate change an issue that "should be important to every nation and every part of our world." But in the end his message boiled down to wait a while longer - for new technology, more research, clearer answers. The European leaders Mr. Bush meets this week aren't likely to find that very satisfactory, and they'll be right.

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