Jan. 24, 2008 -- As President Bush prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address to Congress Monday, a prestigious group of nearly 200 U.S. climate scientists, policy experts and mayors are calling on the president -- and his potential successors -- to take stronger action to combat global warming.
"The United States is the nation that is most responsible for the problem," said the State of the Climate declaration released today. "Yet today our nation stands virtually alone among developed nations in refusing to accept the need for decisive action. Consequently, we regret to report that the state of the nation's climate policy is poor."
The State of the Climate paper is an offshoot of the Presidential Climate Action Project -- or PCAP -- which last December released a report suggesting ways the next U.S. president could begin to tackle climate change within the first 100 days of taking office. The initiative is run by the University of Colorado.
One of the signers, James Hornaday, doesn't have to be convinced that humans are the cause of global warming that is already changing his part of the world.
Over the last 40 years, Hornaday, the mayor of Homer, Alaska, has watched massive glaciers melt away, bark beetle infestations destroy large swaths of spruce trees and encroaching sea levels erode 2½ feet of shoreline every year.
"Even the fishermen are finding strange-looking critters that never used to be here before," he said.
Like many local and state governments, the city of Homer has studied the effects of global warming and even implemented a plan to address it head on. But Hornaday is frustrated that Bush and Congress have so far failed to come up with a national strategy to address global warming -- a topic, he also notes, that has not garnered much attention from the candidates vying for the White House.
"It's one of the sleeper issues that really hasn't caught fire in the presidential campaign yet," Hornaday said.
With issues like Iraq, the economy and immigration occupying much of the current public debate, PCAP Executive Director William Becker said global warming is not getting the attention it deserves.
"This issue -- in its duration, scope and importance -- eclipses most of the other important things we tend to talk about," Becker said. "We are focusing on the next administration because we don't see a major change in policy with this administration. We would love to see that, but we don't anticipate that's going to happen."
The statement is signed by top climate researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Federation of American Scientists, among others.
Georgia Institute of Technology hurricane researcher Judith Curry said she's seen similar "call to action" petitions and statements in the past. Each time she's refused to sign any of them, because she said they often called for policies that were too narrowly focused or unrealistic in their simplicity.
This one changed her mind, she said, because it appeals to a broad political spectrum while presenting global warming as a complex problem without a single, "silver bullet" solution.
"There are a lot of different solutions on the table, and you need a big combination of many different things," said Curry, who chairs Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "It's not just about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it's also about adapting. We have to figure out how to change policies and behavior and do it in a way that we preserve our economy and standard of living."
Dr. Paul Epstein studies global warming at the Center for Health and the Global Environment run by the Harvard Medical School. He signed on in part to highlight the need to address health threats facing Americans -- like heat stress, asthma and disease-carrying pest infestations made worse by a climate that is heating up.
For his part, Epstein believes the president and Congress should consider a "climate stimulus package" similar to the one being shaped to help the struggling U.S. economy. Such a package could jump-start a green technology revolution, he said.
"Global warming is changing the climate, and I think people are scared," Epstein said. "We need a public-private partnership to realign the rewards and the regulations, and let those drive how people can be efficient and develop innovative technologies."
Bush called climate change a "serious challenge" in his 2007 State of the Union address, but opposes mandatory caps on carbon emissions in favor of technology and market-based solutions. Congress is considering several bills to cut greenhouse gases but none have passed.
Organizers say they will deliver the State of the Climate document to the White House today, which has seen an advance copy.
"We are pleased to see many of the principles laid out here align closely with what the president has said," said Council on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer. "Addressing climate change requires action at all levels of government and we are interested in seeing the local plans to meet their proposed targets."
Local governments point right back at the White House.
"This is one local government, one small town in Alaska. We can't have a huge impact," said Anne Marie Holen, who coordinates Homer's plan to deal with climate change. "We think the United States has not shown adequate leadership on this issue. And we hope to see that change."
The State of the Climate comes a day after the United States was ranked well behind countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan in a new environmental performance study from Yale and Columbia Universities.
The United States scored 39th out of 139 nations, earning high marks for clean water and sanitation, but low scores for greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
"The United States' performance indicates that the next administration must not ignore the ecosystem impacts of environmental as well as agricultural, energy and water management policies," said Gus Speth, the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in a statement. He is also a co-signer of the State of the Climate document.
Here is a look at where the presidential candidates stand on global warming policy, compiled by The Associated Press:
Hillary Clinton: Supports 10-year, $150 billion energy package, including $50 billion "strategic energy fund" to develop new sources of fuel. Fund to be paid for by eliminating tax subsidies for oil companies. Tougher fuel-efficiency standards financed in part by $20 billion in "green vehicle bonds." Voted for 2003 bill that would have capped 2010 emissions at 2000 levels. Would use some of the money from auctioning pollution credits to cushion higher consumer energy costs resulting from emission cuts.
John Edwards: Supports a $13 billion-a-year fund to double the Energy Department's budget for efficiency and renewable energy, accelerate clean technologies, encourage consumers to buy efficient products and help workers move out of jobs in polluting industries. Eliminate oil company subsidies and establish cap-and-trade system requiring companies to pay for emitting pollution. Supports tougher vehicle fuel efficiency standards. Says people must make sacrifices in energy use, including changing vehicles they drive. As senator, missed vote on 2003 bill.
Barack Obama: Supports a 10-year, $150 billion program to produce "climate friendly" energy supplies that he'd pay for with a carbon auction requiring businesses to bid competitively for the right to pollute. Supported legislation that would set mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions and increase costs to consumers.Supports tougher fuel-efficiency standards. Goal of cutting greenhouse pollution 20 percent by 2020.
Rudy Giuliani: Has said that while human activity contributes to global warming, he's not sure how much it does. Believes the best way to help offset climate change is through energy independence, more nuclear power and alternative technologies.
John McCain: Chief co-sponsor of a bill that sought mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Plan would require emissions to return to 2004 levels by 2012 and to 1990 levels by 2020.
Mitt Romney: As Massachusetts governor, backed out of regional pact to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants because it did not cap the higher energy costs it might place on business and consumers. Says energy independence is the way to deal with global warming.
Mike Huckabee: Supports 35 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard by 2020. Mandatory cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, while saying he doesn't know how much of the global warming problem is caused by human activity.