THIS IS THE most monumental Earth Day since its inception more than 30 years ago because the issue of global warming is finally catapulting toward a tipping point. With the debate firmly behind us, the focus is turning to solutions.
Around the world, countries are finally recognizing the urgent need to deal with global warming. China just mandated stronger fuel economy standards for its vehicles than we have in the United States, and it imposed a tax on gas-guzzling vehicles and disposable wood chopsticks. Brazil has shifted almost half its cars and trucks to ethanol. London imposes a toll on all vehicles entering its congested business district. Sweden is on course to become the world's first country with an oil-free economy. In Barcelona, 40% of new buildings have hot water courtesy of solar power.
In the United States, the media have begun to recognize the severity of the issue as well and have responded with an explosion of coverage. A recent Time magazine special report on global warming warned: "Be Worried, Be Very Worried." In the last few months, every major broadcast network has investigated the subject, including, to the surprise of many in the environmental movement, a one-hour prime-time special that aired on Fox News last November. Even the Weather Channel has a full-time global warming expert.
Oprah devoted a show to the subject and, as a result of her call to action, efficient, compact fluorescent lightbulbs were sold out at stores across the country. Wal-Mart has since expanded the floor space for and prominence of the bulbs in its stores. Vanity Fair and Elle just published their first green issues, the latter making fashion magazine publishing history by printing on recycled paper. On May 26, former Vice President Al Gore's film on the subject, "An Inconvenient Truth," will open in movie theaters nationwide.
Membership in environmental groups is at an all-time high. Daily extreme weather events have forced Americans to realize that something is very wrong. The dots are finally being connected, and global warming is fast becoming recognized as the most critical issue of our time.
The only place not feeling the heat is the White House. President Bush has admitted, half-heartedly, that Earth is warming and we are addicted to oil. But acknowledging the problem is only a small first step. Members of his party, including Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona, have recognized the urgent need for clean energy solutions that cut oil dependence and curb global warming. The world's scientists, who are the most cautious human beings on the planet, are saying that we are on a course that must be corrected very quickly; many, including NASA scientist James Hansen, insist that action must be taken in the next 10 years.
But the Bush administration is unmoved. It refuses to consider a mandatory cap on carbon dioxide, though even several coal company executives are asking for such action. It won't raise auto fuel economy standards, which are hovering at a 20-year low.
Adding insult to injury, it seeks support for its marginalized views and its shameful inaction by rewriting government climate reports to mislead the American public.
As its allies desert it, the administration seems more and more like a polar bear, standing alone on an ever-shrinking block of ice.