The phenomenon of climate change is real,
and its long-term consequences will be chilling. This message,
which scientist Robert Watson delivered last weekend at the
University at the Isadore A. Bernstein Symposium on climate change,
underscores the importance of taking the issue seriously as an
issue of national and international concern.

Mira Levitan

Watson, the chief scientist at the World Bank, reinforced the
legitimacy of climate change predictions by citing evidence that
the entire Earth has grown warmer in the past 25 years. He argued
that policy should be enacted in step with the scientific
observation that a sustainable Earth is necessary for a good
economy. Watson referenced an interesting Pentagon report, leaked
in February, which stated that unmitigated climate change poses a
much greater threat to national security than terrorism — a
contradiction of Bush administration rhetoric that climate change
is speculation,

Recent U.S. policy has ignored the demands of the scientific
community. Instead of responding to the challenge of the Kyoto
treaty, in which all signatory nations committed to reduce their
climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions below a set quota,
President Bush backed out and enacted an alternative to Kyoto that
panders to the interests of polluting industry. His
administration’s Clear Skies Initiative in fact makes emissions
reduction completely voluntary. No corporation must commit to
reduce emissions, and those corporations that do volunteer are
under no obligation to report on their progress. This policy,
little more than a symbolic joke, is a grave act of negligence.

Conversely, programs such as the Chicago Climate Exchange offer
an effective and economically stimulating solution to the challenge
of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the Climate Exchange,
corporations and municipalities are given a number of credits based
on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce. As they cut
those emissions, they become free to sell those credits to other
exchange members. This approach makes environmental sustainability
directly profitable, thus benefitting the economy and Earth at the
same time.

The alternative to sustainable climate policy could be
devastating. Its consequences demand that the issue of climate
change be elevated from a scientific debate to an issue of national
security. Scientific observation has provided evidence that climate
change is very real. It is time for the United States to listen to
the scientific and defense communities and enact policy to curtail
the effects of human activity on the climate of the planet.
Practical solutions exist, and it is time we put them to work.

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