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America's global warming initiative needs more vigor

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The recent disintegration of a major ice shelf in Antarctica reminded people now paying attention that the potential effects of global warming could be sudden and drastic. About the size of the state of Rhode Island (1,250 square miles), the Larson B ice shelf was 12,000 years old; its break-up was documented by compelling satellite images. The dramatic break-up of the 650-foot thick ice shelf in Antarctica surprised scientists by the speed of its collapse, all within a five-week period ending March 7.

Last year was the second hottest in the 140 years that scientists have been keeping records. It was the warmest summer. The World Meteorological Organization ? the United Nations' weather agency ? reports that nine out of ten of the warmest years have occurred since 1990. The WMO is alarmed that temperatures are rising three times as fast as 100 years ago.

While in the past scientists have been slow to certify the causes of the warming trend, the WMO minced no words. Said Ken Davidson, director of the agency's climate program, "The evidence shows we have global warming and that most of this is due to human action." The phenomenon of "greenhouse effect," primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels, is blamed for the rise in temperatures.

Of all environmental issues, Global Warming is the big one. It impacts the whole Earth and past a certain point, it is most likely irreversible. Many already believe that it is causing substantial climate change, leading to super-storms, large-scale flooding, longer-than-usual droughts ? what scientists are calling "extreme weather." Ultimately, the trend puts in doubt the ability of the planet to support life as we know it. But as evidence mounts and the vast majority of the world's scientists and nations accepts the reality that something is drastically wrong with the rising world temperature, the United States has lost standing in the international community for its refusal to sign on to an agreement ? the Kyoto Protocol ? that would have begun to address this serious issue.

This intense international process, which saw 164 countries, including all major U.S. allies, agree even on the smaller details, was unilaterally scuttled by the U.S. The Kyoto accords would have required about 40 developed countries to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide to an average of 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels. Instead, President George W. Bush, reacting to his own administration's studies indicating the reality of the problem, recently unveiled his own proposals for addressing global warming. The good news is that inherent in the Bush Greenhouse Gas Plan is acceptance of the principle that industrial emissions cause greenhouse gases, but the requirements of the proposal, relying mostly on voluntary reductions, are so minimal as to border on the negligent. For one thing, utilities and manufacturers are asked to take part in a Department of Energy program that encourages companies to report carbon emissions and voluntarily reduce their levels. The plan is expected to have little impact.

The President's earlier decision to disavow the Kyoto Protocol, which set tough mandatory targets for carbon emissions, particularly by the industrialized countries, touched off international protests from U.S. allies and environmentalists. The charge that the U.S. was turning its back on a serious climate change problem was hard to ignore.

We urge Washington to press vigorously on this issue. There are many paths to potential solutions but these must include a serious reevaluation of the current energy policy. The U.S., the world's most powerful industrialized country, with only five percent of the world's population, generates about one-fourth of global greenhouse gases. It needs to listen to its own scientists, who overwhelmingly accept the reality of the problem. It must lead on this issue.

At the same time tribal leaders have been virtually mute, compelled to deal with more immediate, perhaps tangible local problems, while doing little to secure a stable environment for their progeny. This is a shame. It has already been three and a half years since the Albuquerque Declaration was issued in November 1998. The Declaration, sent out as a message to all relevant national and international institutions, expressed the profound concern by indigenous peoples for the well being "of Mother Earth and Father Sky and of the potential consequences of climate imbalance."

Inaction should not be seen as an option. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.