Don’t wait till we face an irreversible situation

By JIM DIPESO, REP Policy Director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: letter to the editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 1, 2002


I’m sure the predictable letters denouncing Bob Herbert’s Tuesday column on climate change are arriving at the Post-Intelligencer. There is not enough evidence for global warming, some will bellow. Fighting global warming will destroy the economy and our way of life, others will complain.

Are there scientific uncertainties about global warming? Of course. All science is provisional. It’s possible that politicians with no scientific training are right and learned scientists who must submit their work to rigorous peer review are wrong and global warming will turn out to be less of a problem than anticipated.

But uncertainty cuts both ways. It’s also possible that global warming will turn out to be more serious than we think. The uncontrolled science experiment we’re conducting on the only atmosphere we have could push it past a tipping point that would trigger a really nasty runaway greenhouse effect.

Take serious warming taking place in the Arctic. Permafrost holds huge quantities of frozen methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Melt the permafrost too much and a lot of that methane will go into the atmosphere, which could “turbocharge” global warming and lock us permanently into a sweltering climate.

That’s a risk we need to avoid. We should take prudent but vigorous steps now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, through greater energy efficiency and development of advanced renewable and hydrogen energy technologies. There will be spinoff benefits — lower energy costs, new jobs in new industries and rural economic development.

Instead of settling for the Bush administration’s passive helplessness on this issue, America should take charge. The longer we wait, the greater the risk that global warming will reach a point of no return.