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State can do more for planet, scientist says

Rajendra K. Pachauri praises California plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions but says it should go further.

June 28, 2008|Margot Roosevelt | Times Staff Writer

Global warming celebrity Rajendra K. Pachauri, wearing a green feather in his lapel, toured Northern California on Friday, praising the state's blueprint for addressing climate change but reminding public officials that Europe is moving far more quickly to address the issue.

The chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who recently accepted the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Al Gore, met with legislators, bureaucrats and bigwigs. He also held news conferences in Sacramento and San Francisco.

And what would global warming be without slides and charts? Pachauri leavened his PowerPoint road show with humor, anecdotes and even a quote from Chief Seattle as he urged Californians to turn off unnecessary lights, take shorter showers and eat less meat -- personal behavior changes that would reduce their carbon footprint.

The visit of the world-famous Indian energy economist was "particularly opportune," noted Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, who introduced Pachauri to an audience of 200 in downtown Sacramento.

The air board Thursday released the first comprehensive carbon-reduction blueprint of any U.S. state, a detailed plan to slash California's global warming pollution down to 1990 levels in the next 12 years, a 30% cut from projected levels.

But at a breakfast in the Capitol, Pachauri told state senators and environmental activists that California's plan, though "forward looking," should go further.

"It would be nice if California, one of the largest economies in the world, cut greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels," he said. "It would send a strong message to the rest of the U.S."

The European Union, he explained later, is moving rapidly to reduce its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels. The U.S., meanwhile, has declined to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international climate treaty signed by most industrial countries. Three weeks ago, the U.S. Senate threw out legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions nationally.

"It's ironic that the Earth is on fire all around us, and we're sitting here talking about climate change," remarked Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), as a haze from nearby forest fires blurred the view from the Capitol's windows.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of the world's top 2,500 climate scientists, has determined that a rapid rise in the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere results from human activity. It estimates that emissions must stabilize before 2015 to avoid a rise in sea level, flooding, forest fires, drought and heat-related disease.

It was a high-carbon trip for Pachauri. He had flown from New York, where he spoke at a luncheon held by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Then it was on to San Francisco, where he addressed a Commonwealth Club panel and attended a reception with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was slated to return to New York, then travel to Europe and Abu Dhabi on his mission to spread alarm.

Asked about the effect of population growth on climate, Pachauri noted that the per-capita energy consumption in the U.S. is 40 times that of Bangladesh, making the U.S.'s annual population growth of 3 million people equivalent to adding 120 million people in a developing country. He called for "a worldwide effort" to make contraception available to those who need it.

Pachauri concluded his presentations with an 1854 quote from Chief Seattle: "Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

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margot.roosevelt@ latimes.com

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