President Bush Forgets About Global Warming

President Bush may have broken some ground when he admitted in his State of the Union speech that the country is "addicted to oil," but he did not mention the other massive issue that's tied to oil ... global warming.

The vast majority of scientists now agree that global warming is real and well under way.

"It may have sounded new to some, but it wasn't -- there was nothing really new there," says American economist Gary Yohe, who has focused for years on the economic challenges and dangers posed by global warming. "As long as they remain voluntary, meaningful cuts in greenhouse gas emissions simply won't happen in the U.S."

An extremely gloomy assessment of the dangers of global warming was published this week in Britain by prominent Earth systems scientist James Lovelock. In "Gaias's Revenge," Lovelock concludes that catastrophic global warming cannot be avoided; Lovelock does not expect that the United States, China or India will make the necessary emissions cuts over the next few years to avoid catastrophic global warming, and he expects it will occur soon.

Before the end of the century, says Lovelock, too many climate system tipping points will have passed, taking the planet into a runaway greenhouse effect that will raise temperatures so sharply that people will be "dying by the billions" with only a "few breeding pairs left" at the poles, the only places that will be at all tolerable.

Leading American climate scientist James Hansen of NASA says there is still time, that planetary catastrophe can be avoided, "but we have to get started with the emissions cuts now ... [get them] well under way within the next 10 years."

While virtually all climate scientists agree new emissions-free energy technologies are vital if there is to be any chance of averting drastically disruptive climate change, many say that even the most promising new technologies would take years to become effective, and they argue that in the meantime there must be major cuts in greenhouse emissions.

"There is some new money in the Advanced Energy Initiative that President Bush announced last night, but it pales in comparison to the tax breaks he's offering the oil companies," says Susan Joy Hassol, an independent climate analyst who has written several major international assessments of global climate change.

"Compared to the incremental increases he is offering for the development of new energy technologies -- increases of millions or tens of millions of dollars -- in the overall energy bill, the president is giving billions in tax breaks to the oil and gas drillers -- and all this at a time when oil company profits are soaring," Hassol says.

Hassol also points out that the president's speech "made no mention of fuel efficiency, the best and cheapest way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions." Hassol complains that "this administration has consistently stood in the way of raising fuel-efficiency standards."

The president made no reference in his address to global warming or to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, other than one mention of continuing research in emissions-free, coal-fired energy plants.

This contrasts sharply with the messages coming from the office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the past few days. Blair has tried to draw attention to those new scientific studies that conclude that global warming has accelerated and is much closer to dangerous tipping points than scientists had recently thought.

This week Cambridge University Press is publishing "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change," which gathers 41 studies by established scientists from around the world.

"These studies each quantify, in a variety of ways, the risks we are already dealing with in the global warming that is clearly well under way," says economist Yohe, one of the book's editors.

"This shows the statements by the president's science adviser to be simply wrong when he states that we can't quantify the risks of global warming," says Yohe.

John H. Marburger III, Bush's chief science adviser, was quoted in The Washington Post on Sunday as saying, "We know these things are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."

Yohe also says Marburger's quoted statement that "there's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change" is meaningless.

Yohe has focused on evaluating numerous studies by scientists who have constructed possible "dangerous climate change" scenarios -- scenarios that he says are critical to taking any responsible action in the face of the enormous dangers of accelerating climate change, and which, he points out, are by definition crucial portraits of possible effects of global warming that can never be known precisely until they happen.

Yohe quoted a famous climatologist's saying: "These are experiments that we really don't want to be trying with the only planet we have."

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