States Lead on Climate Change

The state of New Jersey is tired of waiting for the Bush administration to address the issue of climate change.

The state Legislature and the governor are prepared to join several other states by moving forward with efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases the state pumps into the air. Legislation has been unveiled that calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, mirroring an executive order issued by Gov. Jon S. Corzine that calls for a phased reduction in gases -- 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

Corzine and the New Jersey Legislature are just the latest to attempt an end run around a presidential administration who refuses to acknowledge the accepted science.

California, for instance, passed legislation in 2006 mandating a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 -&endash; legislation that was followed by an executive order creating comprehensive standards for carbon emission in cars and trucks.

Schwarzenegger unveiled the fuel standards in January, according to the Los Angeles Times, saying "that California must become a leader in combating global warming to fill a void created by the inaction of the administration of President Bush."

"We are not waiting for Washington," he said. "We are moving forward on our own because this is an issue that is too important."

Corzine offered the same assessment.

"In the absence of leadership from the Bush administration, state action to address this global challenge is that much more important," a Corzine administration official told the Newark Star-Ledger in February.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has been ordered to work with other state departments and business, consumer and environmental groups to target "the two main sources of emissions: transportation and electricity production," the paper reported.

The evidence, of course, was pretty strong to begin with. But it was bolstered recently when a United Nations panel issued a report essentially blaming human activity for global warming.

The summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, issued Feb. 2, says that human activity has committed the world to centuries of warming that will alter weather patterns and lead to rising sea levels.

The report, the fourth issued under the auspices of the United Nations since 1990, was blunt in its assessment, saying that "warming of the climate is unequivocal" thanks to an increase of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere cause primarily by human activity.

"The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture," the report said.

The report does not offer policy prescriptions, but makes it clear that the changes can be slowed, and potentially reversed, if we change our behavior.

John P. Holdren, an energy and climate expert at Harvard University, told the New York Times when the report was released that it "powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable."

President George W. Bush, of course, has shown little interest -- aside from the occasional rhetorical flourish in a State of the Union speech -- in addressing the issue of climate change.

So it has been left to the states -- which is why a coalition of states has sued the Bush administration. The plaintiffs in the case -- 12 states and 13 environmental groups -- sued, according to a December story in the New York Times, to force the federal Environmental Protection Agency to "treat carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as air pollutants," which would give "the agency the authority to regulate them" and generally make it easier to tackle the pollution generated by everything from power plants to automobiles.

The California and New Jersey plans are part of this effort -&endash; and, hopefully, will help move the federal government toward a saner approach to carbon emissions and global climate change.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, a Democrat who is a member of the state's newly formed Green Caucus, explained it best in a press release sent to The Cranbury Press, one of the papers I edit.

"While the concept of global warming has been treated as a 'myth' in some circles," she said. "There is more evidence than ever that it is a reality we can no longer ignore."

Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press in central New Jersey. Email His blog, Channel Surfing, can be found at

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2007

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