War on climate change must enlist foot soldiers
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As astounding as it still seems to some, our enormous Earth is showing the wounds inflicted by the tiny humans swarming over its surface. And, as global temperatures rise due in large part to manmade pollutants, it becomes virtually impossible to dispute the folly of making our own planet less habitable.
The latest report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points squarely at the world's addiction to fossil fuels — especially its reliance on the dirtiest one, coal — as the crux of the problem and calls for action by the biggest polluters to radically reduce carbon emissions in the next 20 years.
China now ties the United States as the biggest polluter and, due to its rapid industrialization, will in the next 10 years vault into first place; currently these nations split responsibility for about half the world's carbon emissions. India is expected to pass Russia over the course of a decade to claim the No. 3 spot.
So far, the U.S., China and India have created an impasse, with Washington refusing to budge unless the Asian nations do, and China and India leading the pack of developing nations insisting that coal is key to their economic health.
But that stalemate may be shaking loose. At last week's East Asia Summit, China and India topped the roster of 16 countries pledging to sign a new climate-change blueprint to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The U.S. soon may be standing alone in ignoring the call to action — a truly disgraceful position for a nation that calls itself the leader of the free world.
It's pointless to await any change in tack from the lame-duck Bush administration, which has for years kept its head resolutely buried in the sand.
Instead, turning around U.S. policy on this issue has got to become priority No. 1 for the voters who, in an election year, certainly have the ear of every prospective and current Washington politician.
The question must be placed squarely before every presidential candidate: How does he or she propose to get this country on a more responsible environmental track that accounts for the true cost of using our resources without care?
Given that some candidates may still maintain that concern over global warming is unwarranted, the burden rests on the public to demonstrate that it's an issue that resonates with the American people.
And the only way to communicate that is to assume personal responsibility for the "footprint" each of us leaves behind.
Some of that personal action can take the form of individual activity: recycling, tree-planting, waste reduction, patronizing "green" companies, using energy-efficient hybrid vehicles.
Or, people can partner with environmental networks supporting projects that offset environmental damage on a larger scale. Carbon fund.org is an example of a site that directs people to such initiatives.
This is an effort that will take leadership of governments, it is true, but leaders need the inspiration that can only come from grass-roots support. Each of us who cares about the health of the planet — and that should be everyone — needs to join the march, and to bring a friend along, as well.
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