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Mayor calls for action to fight global warming

Published: Friday, July 22, 2005 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 21, 2005 at 9:00 p.m.

I was honored to have been one of 46 mayors to have attended the first annual conference on global warming at the Sundance Summit recently. After attending 16 hours of meetings hearing global experts on the subject, these are my thoughts:

The challenges facing our world were made clear by scientists, doctors, energy consultants and political experts. Former Vice President Al Gore gave a passionate presentation about the science and facts regarding global warming. He interjected humor and ultimately encouraged the mayors to take leadership and advocate for a national policy.

This is a man who completely grasps the issue, and his analysis of the critical need to succeed in combating global warming was substantiated by many hours of expert testimony. Gore's opening remark stated, "We are managing Planet Earth as if it is a business in liquidation." His closing remarks, however, were more optimistic, telling the mayors this is the issue of their lifetime and "failure is not an option."

The consequences of failing on this mission could mean a loss of salmon in all of Sonoma County. It could mean an increase in some diseases such as asthma, Lyme disease, malaria and West Nile. It could mean a sixfold increase in pollen counts, which would lead to respiratory diseases and increased costs in health care, according to Dr. Paul Epstein, the associate director of Harvard Medical School.

Heidi Cullen, who has a doctorate in climatology and is a reporter for the Weather Channel, stressed the dangers of increased weather disasters such as hurricanes and droughts. Unless action is taken, carbon dioxide levels could increase at a rate that will lead to climate changes so swift that we may not be able to adapt to those changes. The sea levels could rise by as much as six meters (more than 19 feet) due to melting polar ice by the end of this century. Even a 20-inch rise in sea level would mean a loss of 500 square miles of California. Some of that loss would take place right here in Sonoma County.

The good news is that scientists are providing lead time to deal with this issue. The other good news is that technology exists that could reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent, and with a concerted effort, the emissions could be reduced by the 60 percent threshold scientists believe would mitigate the problem.

The problem cannot be solved without the United States' participation. This country currently is responsible for 22 percent of the total carbon emissions.

The Kyoto Accord called for a 7 percent reduction below the 1990 level of emissions. The United States is the only Group of Eight member failing to sign it.

Fortunately California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan, is going to be a leader in cutting emissions. The governor has a target of reducing emissions by 80 percent over 1990 levels between now and 2050.

The quickest route to emissions reductions is to improve the gas mileage of automobiles. California's entire congressional delegation should stand behind the governor's goal and insist the United States develop a comprehensive national policy to address the issue of global warming. As a practical matter that will mean dictating improved gas mileage for all cars sold in America, both foreign and domestic.

I would hope every community in Sonoma County and California would make it a priority to develop a global warming strategy. In Schwarzenegger's words: "The debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat, and the time for action is now."

Americans have always been able to rise to the occasion when they understand the objective, the urgency and the consequences of inaction.

It is much better to take action now rather than wait and be proved wrong. The final analysis of the conference was the realization that there is sufficient information to act now. I hope every reader will join me, the other 45 mayors at the conference, our governor, the United Nations and the other seven countries in the Group of Eight. One lesson I have learned is if the people lead, the leaders will follow. Together we can make the difference.

This story appeared in print on page 2

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