Reduce global warming, right here

Northeastern anti-pollution plans will help, but local homeowners and businesses can do their part, too


Scott Carlin is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental
Science at C.W. Post, Long Island University.

March 27, 2006

The White House and Congress ignore it, but global warming is a major national security threat - a weapon of mass destruction. This peril grows more dangerous each year, so where is our response?

Gov. George Pataki has taken one important step by creating the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Six Mid-Atlantic and New England states have joined New York to reduce emissions from electric power plants. KeySpan and other power providers will need to curb future emissions under this plan even though the Long Island Power Authority forecasts increasing future demand for electricity.

This conflict can only be addressed by repowering older power plants and managing demand. LIPA already has a variety of programs to reduce energy consumption and promote renewable energy, but we need to expand them. Many local governments also have pledged to reduce energy consumption. For example, Southampton Town is reviewing proposals to build a high-tech cluster of municipal buildings; it would be the nation's first large-scale green-building municipal complex. This is the kind of innovation Long Island should strive for, in the Nassau Hub and elsewhere.

There are no plans to control other local sources of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, heating and manufacturing. Nor do we have much information on how Long Island's consumption of foods, chemicals, building materials, metals and hundreds of other products - including national defense resources - affect direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. New York City is compiling an emissions inventory; Long Island needs to do the same.

As for the national and international picture: In May 2003 the United States recorded 543 tornadoes, a one-month record. In August 2003, 35,000 people died in Europe during a record heat wave. Almost 15,000 died in France and 7,000 in Germany. That year, a British scientist estimated that climate changes caused more than 150,000 deaths a year globally.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season posted a record 27 named storms, including a record 15 hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damages, the most expensive storm in U.S. history. Katrina displaced more than 1.5 million people, our largest humanitarian crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of animals perished. A Georgia Institute of Technology study recently confirmed that devastating storms are likely to occur with
increasing frequency.

Coral reefs are bleaching as oceans warm. Mountain glaciers are retreating. Tens of thousands of sea birds washed up dead on beaches from California to Washington this year. The ice in Greenland, the Arctic Circle and Antarctica is thinning at an alarming rate. Colorado
scientist Julienne Stroeve noted, "If current rates of decline in sea ice continue, the summertime Arctic could be completely ice-free well before the end of this century."

Political conservatives argue that doom-and-gloom environmentalism is a dangerous distraction; we should focus on the opportunities this new world presents. The New York Times reported this fall that thinning Arctic ice will create many new economic opportunities for shipping, fishing and mineral exploration.

Climate change is happening so rapidly that we have to adapt. But adaptation alone is a prescription for disaster; the costs imposed by climate change will be enormous and potentially catastrophic. Leading scientists argue that we must rapidly curb greenhouse emissions or face dire consequences.

On the regional level, many resources exist to foster education and investments in emission reductions, including Long Island's Sustainable Energy Alliance and research institutions such as Brookhaven National Laboratory. In April, Save the Sound will examine the impact of
climate change on the Long Island Sound, like declining lobster populations near Bridgeport, Conn.

But the pace of change must quicken. Schools, businesses, religious institutions and civic groups should all commit to making modest reforms in 2006. Science teachers can give presentations at church or PTA meetings. Long slanders can get rid of inefficient light bulbs, as Kenny Luna's students are doing in North Babylon's Robert Moses Middle School. People can share auto rides or take the railroad; they can participate in LIPA's Green Choice program.

The Kyoto treaty has many flaws, but more than 150 nations signed it. Many cities across
the United States are moving forward with their own Kyoto-style plans. Long Island's towns and counties should join them. Properly conceived, these investments will generate jobs and economic innovation, reduce energy consumption and improve our health.

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