The three leading presidential candidates must take a stand on global warming. They all say they are committed to reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but the question is whether they plan to do enough to avert further damage.
Democrats Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say they will reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, while Republican Sen. John McCain is calling for a 60 percent cut during the same time period.
But carbon emissions may need to be eliminated altogether to keep temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, according to several recently released scientific papers.
Emission of carbon dioxide and its concentration in the atmosphere are both rising at record rates and if they continue to grow at current levels, average temperatures could climb by more than 7 degrees, the Washington Post reported recently. This could cause changes in precipitation that could lead to flooding in some areas and drought in others.
As scary as this scenario is, climate scientists are now saying that the Earth’s temperature will continue to rise even after carbon emissions are reduced. If emissions were frozen at current levels, carbon concentrations would continue to rise, according to the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, which sponsored one of the studies. Stabilizing carbon concentrations by making deep cuts in emissions would only slow the rise in temperature, not stop the warming, the Carnegie Institution says.
"Just as an iron skillet will stay hot and keep cooking after the stove burner’s turned off," a release from the Carnegie Institution said, "heat held in the oceans will keep the climate warm even as the heating effect of greenhouse gases diminishes. Adding more greenhouse gases, even at a rate lower than today, would worsen the situation, and the effects would persist for centuries."
Several states — led by California — are moving to address the problem, passing caps on tailpipe emissions, though many of these state programs have been stymied by the federal government’s unwillingness to grant waivers from federal law.
All three presidential candidates have said they would approve the state programs. And all three have offered programs that are better than the status quo but fall far short.
Bold action is needed. Global warming is real, with the effects already being felt in changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and more frequent droughts. Conditions are only going to get worse. The time to act is now.
Hank Kalet is a newspaper editor with the Princeton Packet newspapers in central New Jersey. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.