Editorial for Friday — October 31, 2003

• Global warming

Global warming

We don’t know everything there is to know about global warming. But this much we do know: It is real. Human activities play a significant role. And it never will be easier to start reducing the threat than it is today.

The U.S. Senate has a chance to lead on this crucial issue when it begins debate this week on a bill to limit the release of greenhouse gases. It should approve the Climate Stewardship Act, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Clearly, neither Mr. McCain nor Mr. Lieberman is an environmental extremist. Their bill borrows a market-based approach, proven useful in fighting acid rain and smog. It would create an emissions-trading system that would allow companies to buy rights to emit greenhouse gases from other companies, which would in turn decrease their emissions.

The modest goal of the bill is to reduce emissions to year 2000 levels by 2010. That clearly won’t be enough, but it sure beats what we’ve seen so far from the White House.

After campaigning on a promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, President George W. Bush has compiled a record of pathetic pandering to the big industrial polluters who helped bankroll his presidential ambitions. Mr. Bush has repeatedly deferred acting on the threat, opting instead to call for study after study. Mr. Bush and his conservative allies – especially environment committee chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who repeatedly called global warming “a hoax perpetrated on the American people” – continue to question its existence.Critics of the Climate Stewardship Act make much of a study performed by Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a coal industry front, that estimates the McCain-Lieberman bill would increase energy costs by 30 to 50 percent. A more objective analysis, performed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found the bill would add at most $20 in annual costs to the average family. There would, of course, be trade-offs. Reducing emissions means burning less coal. That probably translates into fewer jobs in Southern Illinois coal country. But in the long run, that would be outweighed by jobs created by development of new technologies.

The Climate Stewardship Act is expected to fail. But the fight against global warming will ultimately move ahead. Already, dozens of large international companies are promising to reduce their emissions. Meanwhile, a coalition of states and cities is suing to demand federal regulation of greenhouse gases.

The question is no longer whether to act, but when. With enough support from courageous senators of both parties, the Climate Stewardship Act will serve notice that the days of delay are ending.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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