Americans concerned about the effect of global warming upon the nation's future will gather tomorrow in what may prove to be the largest environmental rally in American history. They will gather in iconic spots like the levees that were overwhelmed in New Orleans, the glaciers melting atop Mount Rainier and the endangered coral reefs off Key West. Events will take place in a variety of Berkshire locations. (see today's news section for details). More than 1,300 locations in all 50 states will be visited as the core of a campaign to demand that Congress "step it up" and pass legislation that will cut carbon emissions in America by 80 percent by 2050.
Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Vermont's Middlebury College and an author of books on the economy and the environment, is spearheading the effort, but Mr. McKibben would surely acknowledge that the event has picked up a life of its own. He has written that the environmental movement needs something comparable to the civil rights movement in its size and passion, and Step It Up 2007 may demonstrate that the movement is upon us.
The evidence of human-caused global warming continues to build, and while it is encouraging to see a consensus finally being reached, it is disconcerting as well because consensus is coming only because the science is so disturbing. The recently released report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the product of years of scientific research, is alarming in itself but is doubly so because it was signed off on by governments that rarely agree on anything. It is not a document that will be easily debunked.
The report predicts dramatically reduced snowpacks in the American West, contributing to water supply problems that already exist in the Southwest. Insects, diseases and fires will threaten American forests to a greater degree. By 2020, water shortages in Africa will cause agricultural yields to decrease by as much as 50 percent, contributing dramatically to the disease and famine that already plague the continent. Many species around the world threatened by extinction will become extinct within the lifetimes of many or most Americans. The impact of environmental change of this magnitude extends to the economies of nations and continents, which will inevitably lead to turmoil and warfare as people comes to blows over dwindling food and water.
Action should have begun in earnest years ago in the United States, the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases, but the federal government and big business, two entities that too often work selfishly as one, prevented it, even if that meant ignoring good science and burying the work of the scientists who produced it. But now, there is some reason for optimism. A Democratic Congress is producing legislation to address climate change and polls indicate it has the backing of the American people. Many corporations are acting unilaterally to make their operations greener. In its first ruling ever related to global warming, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the federal Environmental Protection Agency can regulate carbon emissions. That ruling, a response to a suit brought by several states and environmental groups, was led by Massachusetts.
Many argue that global warming is a product of a natural cycle going back many millenniums, but if that is the case, isn't it possible that human-caused warming is worsening that natural cycle? Science aside, doesn't it defy common sense to pollute the air, water and land on the planet we all share? One doesn't have to buy the U.N. report or any report to acknowledge that we should leave the planet for future generations in as good a shape as we found it.
Judging from too many Eagle letters to the editor, the global warming debate centers around whether or not Al Gore's house is powered by green energy. But this issue isn't about Al Gore's house, Al Gore's movie or Al Gore. It is about the present and future welfare of Earth, environmentally, economically and socially. It is worth stepping up for, on Saturday and all days to come.