Aug. 30, 2006 -- A president who doesn't acknowledge the virtually universal consensus among scientists that mankind is dangerously overheating its home planet stands to be upstaged by a governor -- a fellow Republican -- who does.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached a deal with state Democrats today on legislation that would make the state the first to impose across-the-board strict greenhouse gas emissions cuts on industry, energy plants and businesses -- the same sort of regulations a growing number of national legislators of both parties believe could make their way to Capitol Hill next year.
Assembly Bill 32 still has to be formally approved by the state legislature, which is expected to vote on it later this evening, but with the agreement reached today, it looks like a done deal.
"Today, I am happy to announce we have reached a historic agreement on legislation to combat global warming," Schwarzenegger said in a statement released after the deal was reached. "We can now move forward with developing a market-based system that makes California a world leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions.
"The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues," he said. "AB 32 strengthens our economy, cleans our environment and once again, establishes California as the leader in environmental protection."
AB32 would generally require California to roll statewide emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2020, a cut of about 25 percent.
"I say the [global warming] debate is over. We know the science," Schwarzenegger declared forcefully at a recent United Nations summit. "We see the threat, and we know the time for action is now."
President Bush, however, continues to cast doubt on the consensus in the scientific community that man-made emissions cause global warming.
"I have said consistently that global warming is a serious problem. There's debate over whether it's man-made or naturally caused...," the president told reporters in June, hours after an extreme thunderstorm felled an elm tree to the ground just outside his White House door.
The president expressed similar sentiments last March: "The globe is warming. The fundamental debate is, is it man-made or natural -- but put that aside."
(After extensive searches, ABC News has found no such debate.)
California Working Hard to Reach Agreement
But consensus on the bill is by no means universal. "Job killer" is how some California businesses and the state's chamber of commerce have described the bill, charging it would drive businesses out of state. A number of California business leaders, meanwhile, believe it would stimulate the job market through new competition, notably among energy providers.
Californians, aware that they have led the nation before in tough environmental legislation, can take new pride in their success in reaching an agreement on AB32. "A Nationwide Model of Climate Change" is how the San Jose Mercury News put it in a punning headline.
Though California's would be the nation's biggest government to take decisive action in the battle against global warming, it is by no means the first. Various city and state alliances have forged a variety of innovations to lower their own greenhouse gas emissions and become "carbon neutral."
In Colorado, Aspen's three-year-old "canary initiative" has already made a cut in the city's carbon emissions. John Worcester, the ski town's mild-mannered city attorney, tells ABC News that he helped found the initiative so that he could "explain to our grandchildren we did what we could."
Another member of the Aspen group, alternative energy consultant Randy Udall, looking down over the town's buildings, whose carbon emissions his group carefully monitors, tells ABC News this is one global problem that requires local solutions -- everywhere.
"A number of cities around the country now have done an emissions inventory," says Udall. "We think this is going to sweep not just the United States, but eventually it will sweep the world."
California and its famous governor are now the biggest and most visible examples of an attitude toward the burning of fossil fuels that polls show a growing number of Americans believe must become universal.
"It's going to take a federal policy. ... We need it yesterday," says global warming analyst and author Susan Hassol, another member of the Aspen group. "In the meantime, everything that's happening at the local and state level is vital. These are laboratories for the federal policies that we will eventually get."
So far, the closest thing to such a policy -- and the vigorous debate a democracy needs to achieve it -- is to be found in California.