The heat is on

G-8 summit produced long-overdue agreement to battle global warming

Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2009

The following editorial first appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

This week's Group of 8 summit has pretty much lived down to the low expectations it generated from the outset, yet it did produce a long-overdue agreement to fight climate change.

The club of industrialized nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. It was less than President Obama had hoped for - he had aimed to get developing countries such as China and India to sign on as well - but it represents the first time the United States has taken the international lead on climate change since the 1990s, and demonstrates to recalcitrant nations that the industrialized world is willing to take responsibility for its outsized contribution to the problem.

Such international pacts are usually meaningless without the backing of Congress; President Clinton, after all, signed the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming in 1998, but it was never ratified by the Senate. That chamber once again finds itself in a position to overrule the president as it considers a sweeping climate-change bill that was narrowly approved last month in the House. It would fulfill Obama's G-8 promise by meeting the 2050 goal.

The clamor from global-warming deniers has heated up as the nation gets closer to taking action, yet their comprehension of climate science hasn't improved. A particularly common obfuscation from right-wing pundits is the "revelation" that global temperatures have been declining since 1998, even as carbon emissions during the intervening 11 years have risen. This hardly debunks the climate change theory. The cyclical El Nino phenomenon and heavy greenhouse gas concentrations combined to make 1998 the hottest year in recorded history. Such statistical blips are properly ignored by most climatologists, who look at average temperatures over time rather than year-to-year data. And the last decade was on average the hottest ever recorded.

Conservatives are trotting out other long-discredited hypotheses, such as the notion that solar activity rather than greenhouse gases is responsible for rising global temperatures, but the climate bill's fate in the Senate will depend less on crackpot theories than on hardheaded horse-trading. Its effectiveness was undermined in the House by special interests seeking to maximize profits at the expense of the environment, and the same is happening in the Senate as the bill makes its way through various committees.

With his leadership on climate change at the G-8, Obama posited that the United States would no longer ignore a pressing global threat that is largely of its making. If the Senate proves him wrong, it would harm more than our international standing. Those who advocate inaction are gambling with the future of everyone on Earth, and those stakes are too high.

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