by Katherine Stapp
(IPS) NEW YORK -- The signs are subtle, but ominous. The spring thaw arrives in much of the United States about two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago. Exotic tropical birds are nesting in Florida, and butterflies on the west coast are fleeing north to escape the heat.
Climate change is already happening, scientists say, and will get much worse unless something is done. If projected temperature increases of up to 10 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century come true, mid-western agricultural states will suffer lost production, more wildfires will ravage the west, and the coasts will be inundated.
"Global warming is one of the most significant threats to our quality of life," Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski said bluntly last week.
Even as recognition of the problem grows, most states have given up looking for guidance from Washington, which disputes the scientific consensus on climate change.
Instead, they are redoubling their own efforts to crack down on the industries that produce greenhouse gases, and to begin the difficult shift away from oil dependence to clean energy sources like wind and solar.
"Most states would probably like the federal government to take the lead," said Judi Greenwald of the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. "These programs take a lot of resources to design and implement."
"But to the extent that the absence of national leadership continues, more and more will continue to set their own policies, including a growing trend toward passing mandatory rules, as well as voluntary guidelines," she said.
The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that directs nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will take effect next February with its recent approval by Russia's legislature.
However, Bush has refused to submit the treaty to Congress for ratification because he says it unfairly singles out industrialised nations like the United States.
This country produces about one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, with Texas alone regularly exceeding France in annual emissions.
Nearly every U.S. state now has programs to reduce global warming pollution, and many have moved to the next step by working together in regional blocs. The most prominent projects include a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions from utilities, developed by nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, and an alliance to boost energy efficiency and the use of renewables in the power grids of 19 western states.
State initiatives tend to frame climate change as an economic opportunity to produce alternative fuels, become renewable energy exporters, attract high-tech business, and to reduce other kinds of pollution as well, according to a Pew analysis that will be released in early December.
"The issue of global warming can be polarising when it's put out there all by itself," Greenwald said. "There has been a lot of public support for these (state) initiatives, partly because they are integrated with other things people care about."
Some states are seeking technological innovations to solve the problem. For example, the Ohio Coal Development Office funds projects that capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion, while the South Carolina Hydrogen Coalition is promoting economic development by building expertise in hydrogen technology.
Others are taking even stronger steps: for example, 16 states have mandated that electric utilities -- which account for nearly one-third of greenhouse gases -- generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources.
In November, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington -- all west coast states facing the prospect of rising sea levels -- announced 36 recommendations to fight global warming, including tightening emissions and energy efficiency targets, investing in fleets of hybrid gas-electric vehicles, and boosting retail energy sales from renewables at least one percent a year through 2015.
As the program matures, the governors plan to promote market-based carbon trading and alternative fuels like hydrogen.
California has also taken a strong stance on tailpipe pollution, passing a rule in September to force automakers to start selling vehicles that are 30 percent cleaner by 2016. The step makes it the first state to order a mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions, although several others, including New York and Massachusetts, intend to follow suit.
It remains to be seen whether vehicle makers, which have strenuously opposed the plan as too expensive and with unproven benefits, will comply or challenge it in court.
"We're evaluating all our options," Eron Shosteck, director of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told IPS.
While environmental and consumer groups hope state initiatives will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive national policy on curbing global warming emissions, they are sceptical that Washington will change its tune anytime soon.
Last week, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, announced a new plan to invest in companies that control methane, a greenhouse gas. "We're carrying forward an aggressive program of technology partnerships and international partnerships that will reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the American economy by 18 percent," he added.
However, critics noted that the target is entirely voluntary and represents the same rate of reduction that has occurred over the past decade -- about 1.5 percent a year.
"The failure of policy-makers at the national level to address climate change has created a very real political situation in which the public and state politicians realise that they will have to compensate for this inaction," said Joe Mendelson, legal director of the International Centre for Technology Assessment (ICTA), a non-profit group that examines how technology affects society.
ICTA, along with more than a dozen environmental groups and 11 state attorneys general, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in new vehicles. A decision is expected by next summer.
"The refusal to use the tools that we have, like the Clean Air Act, will unfortunately lead to more and more confrontations and lawsuits," Mendelson predicted.
November 30, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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