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Home arrow Environment arrow Local Action on Global Warming
Local Action on Global Warming PDF Print Email this article
Written by Bright Future Staff   
Tuesday, Jul 01, 2008

Over the past century scientists have been tracking average world temperatures to determine if the planet is getting warmer or cooler over time.  These observations have also included data about climate volatility.  The most important goal of this research is to determine if human activities are having an effect on the stability and temperature of our climate.  By the early 90’s most of the evidence indicated that the emissions produced by modern manufacturing, transportation and energy production have begun to alter the earth’s climate by increasing the average global temperature and increasing the volatility of our weather.  This evidence was compelling enough to motivate scientists from all over the world to meet to discuss what each nation can do to slow or reverse this trend.

This meeting was held in 1997 in Kyoto Japan and the result of that meeting is an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol.  This agreement required participating nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have been determined to be the greatest contributors to global warming and increased climate volatility.  Over 160 nations have agreed to comply with the protocol.  The only developed nations that refused to sign were Australia and the United States.

This is most unfortunate as the US is far and away the largest single producer of greenhouse gases.  In recent years the evidence of the effect of the emissions of these gases has become so overwhelming that only a few politicians and government officials within the US question that emissions of these gases is having a detrimental effect.  However, among US scientists there is little disagreement that something needs to be done to reduce the harmful effects of this trend.    The general public agrees with the scientists – recent polls show the majority of Americans are concerned about the effects of global warming and feel something should be done about it.

The basic argument against curbing emissions is that the changes would require investment and innovation on the part of American corporations and that this investment would reduce profitability and subsequently has a negative effect on the US economy.  This is an example of a disastrous economic policy that favors short-term profits over long-term stability and investment in the future.  True, making these changes would cost some companies substantial amounts of investment and may reduce profitability over the short-term.  However, where these changes have been made the short-term costs are usually outweighed by ancillary effects like the more efficient use of resources.  More importantly, the costs of adjusting to a more volatile climate and warmer temperatures will dwarf the short-term costs of converting to more environmentally friendly manufacturing practices and more efficient vehicles.  Just look at the cost and effect on the US economy of recovering from hurricane Katrina.  Scientists tell us to expect more storms of this magnitude as the planet continues to heat up.  The largest potential cost of global warming will be the rebuilding and relocating of large population centers that will be displaced as sea levels rise.

What can the average citizen do when their government pursues policies that conflict with the public interest?  Fortunately, grassroots politics are alive and well in the US and still have the power to change things.

As evidence continued to mount on the effects of global warming concerned citizens began to create programs in their local community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The city of Portland, OR was one of the leaders of this movement.  Way back in 1993 the folks in Portland decided to implement a program on their own to reduce their emissions.  This program involved a 75% increase in the availability and use of public transportation, an increase in the use of renewable sources of energy, a program to encourage the development of environmentally friendly buildings and factories, one of the best recycling programs in the nation, the planting of nearly a million trees and shrubs, and energy and efficiency programs for homes.  These combined efforts helped Portland to reduce her greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.

Portland was able to reduce the production of greenhouse gases as the population increased, and as the local economy was growing.  While Portland still has a long way to go to fully meet the standards contained within the Kyoto Protocol they did show that the Federal Government’s assertion that reducing emissions will cripple the economy appear to lack validity.  For more on Portland’s programs check out their website for environmental programs at www.portlandonline.com/osd/.

Portland is not the only local government that is working on this problem.  There were several other cities and counties that implemented greenhouse gas emission reduction programs over the last 10-20 years.  Success tends to breed more success.  At the same time that Portland was implementing their program other city and county governments were also launching similar programs.

Recently the Mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, organized a bipartisan group of 132 mayors throughout the US that have pledged to meet the Kyoto Protocol.  This action shows that a large part of America is saying that they are not willing to wait for the Federal Government to wake up and smell the coffee.  This movement is approaching critical mass and may encourage most local and state government bodies to implement programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Corporate America is also waking up to the problem of global warming.  Several companies and trade groups are already working on ways to reduce their emissions.  Even the investment community is answering the call.  On Oct. 13 and 14 a conference was held in Paris by the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change.  This was a meeting of some of the most senior figures from public, coporate and financial sectors discussing the most appropriate response to the challeges presented by global warming.

It seems clear that waiting for the federal government to do something about these kinds of problems is like waiting for Congress to support campaign finance reform.  Change will have to come from local governments and the private sector.  The Federal Government has demonstrated that it is inept in dealing with long-term problems that require planning and long-term commitment.

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