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May 23, 2011 – The world not having ended on Saturday, let’s turn our attention to more important matters. Funny, isn’t it: Congress requested the climate reports known as America’s Climate Choices (http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Americas-Climate-Choices/12781), but something tells me they will work very hard at ignoring the report’s conclusions. Why? Because incorporating the report’s recommendations into laws, policies, and regulations would mean acknowledging we now live in a radically changed world. Doing that just doesn’t sound like the Congress we all know and love.
Perhaps more to the point, expecting Congress to take this very serious document seriously presupposes that members of Congress remember how to compromise. They do not, besides which, global warming ranks as one of the most rancorous subjects Congress periodically attempts to take up. With weather on the warpath this year, climate change denier ranks may be thinning. That, sadly, does not equate to a willingness to do something about it. It should be noted that NONE of the above is the fault of those who wrote the reports.
The National Research Council committee that authored the series of reports, the last of which was released just over a week ago, is comprised of “renowned scientists, engineers, economists, business leaders, public servants, and policy experts,” according to the National Academy of Sciences (http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12781) . It was chaired by Albert Camesale, chancellor emeritus and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The fact that the United States has so much expertise to bring to bear in the study of such a crucial subject is heartening. Meetings of the committee were open to the public, and individuals known for their direct involvement with the problems presented by climate change were encouraged to participate in the committee’s research.
So - what does this august body have to say about climate change? For those of us who are relatively well informed, the report isn’t all that surprising. Thank goodness, the committee didn’t mince words. Human activity is the most likely cause of global warming. Climate change will intensify over time. Significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) must be assigned a high priority. Preventive and mitigative measures should be put in place immediately. The effects of GHGE could last for millennia. The cost of acting now is less than acting later. The risks resulting from doing nothing are far greater than the risks of meeting this crisis head on. Once changes to the climate system have taken place, there is little that can be done to reverse them. Climate change is accelerating.
The federal government should coordinate state responses to climate change. National policy with regard to actions planned and taken is absolutely necessary. The federal government also has a role in collecting and sharing information. The United States must remain actively engaged with other nations in meeting this challenge. Those countries which need financial help in responding to climatological change should be given it.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Congress remembered how to do its job. Suppose, too, that a majority of Congress members understood the inescapable outcomes of doing nothing. Even then, our system being what it is, I think we could dare to hope for action on half of the listed recommendations – at best. Let’s see: a 30% reduction in GHGE by 2030 across all industries; a 30% reduction in conventional farming operations by 2040, to be supplanted by sustainable, small-scale operations; the adoption by all states of California’s auto emissions standards by 2016; and the end of logging on all public lands. Rewards for beating deadlines would be built into the system. The federal government takes up its role as a gatherer and disseminator of climate change information, and it remains actively engaged in reaching a global climate change accord. We supply relatively small amounts of money to those developing nations dealing with sea levels rising. Would that be enough?
Whatever we do, our response needs to be placed on a wartime footing. The time to act is now.

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