The debate over global warming is over |

The debate over global warming is over

Nick Fickling

An asteroid heads toward Earth. Nearly every top scientist is warning that it will strike the Earth and, unless action is taken, destroy life as we know it. They have a plan to divert the asteroid but cannot guarantee success. What they do say is that to do nothing will almost certainly result in mass extinction.

How do you, as U.S. president, proceed? Do you look at the high cost to society of implementing the plan and reject it because it will affect the U.S. economy in a major way, or do you accept that change is necessary and that you need to lead your people, and the people of the world, through what will be a costly exercise but probably the only way to ensure our survival?

Thankfully we don’t have an asteroid heading here any time soon, but we have had warning of a disaster that, over time, could have the same end result.

In a 1995 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with more than 2,500 contributing climate scientists, reached near-unanimous agreement that human activity was at least partly responsible for global warming and that global temperatures would likely rise by between 2 and 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. The IPCC also predicted a sea level rise of 1 to 3 feet, more intense and more frequent storms and droughts, more disease, and acceleration in the extinction of plant and animal species.

On Dec. 11, 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the International Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted. It aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and, in effect,

slowing climate change. It has since been ratified by 182 nations but not by the U.S.

On June 11, 2000, President Bush gave a speech rejecting the Kyoto protocol. He had been warned by a White House commissioned report, from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, that a leading cause of global warming was the emission of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. In spite of that, and stark warnings that delaying action would exacerbate the damage, he declared that “complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with layoffs of workers and price increases for consumers.” He did say that the U.S. would increase conservation and energy efficiency, and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But sadly, that was not reflected in his administration’s subsequent budget priorities.

In January 2008, “climate change” made its way into the State of the Union address, and in April 2008, Bush declared “in Washington the debate about climate change is intensifying.” In other words, it only took him seven years of his presidency to “really get it.”

His April 2008 statement, which appears on the White House Web site, would have been rather amusing if the issue was not potentially so important. I particularly liked the bit where he said, “The wrong way is to sharply increase gasoline prices, home heating bills for American families and the cost of energy for American businesses.”

All that has come about this summer, and yet we do not have the benefit of progress on alternative energies and climate change to sweeten the pain. Bush is a leader who reacts to problems rather than anticipating difficulties and dealing with them before they grow beyond his control.

So what are the parties and presidential candidates saying?

The Democrats have consistently followed the Al Gore line that action is needed. The Obama aim of energy independence in 10 years is a laudable goal and shows the sort of leadership that has been so absent these past eight years.

Maverick McCain bravely broke with his party’s dogma and has consistently supported a mandatory program to cap carbon emissions. His party recently switched its policy and now accepts that “human activity … has also increased the carbon in the atmosphere” and that “increased atmospheric carbon has a warming effect on the earth.”

Unfortunately, in Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain has a running mate who, until a month ago, said she did not believe climate change is caused by human behavior.

Dangerously, this belief was justified because she is from Alaska; almost as wacky as her claim to foreign policy expertise. In recent utterings, she has flip-flopped closer to the new GOP position. Can we afford another administration that only gets it when it is politically expedient to do so?

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at or

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