I am finding it harder and harder to believe it is possible for someone to favor renewable energy and oppose Cape Wind. Cape Wind is a real proposal. It will provide enough energy for 75 percent of the Cape demand. Until I see Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Frank (and the undecided Sen. Kerry) support an equally real alternative, then I don't believe they are committed to reducing greenhouse gases.
I find myself becoming what I used to frown upon when I was in government a single-issue voter. And that issue is global warming.
Most people, including our political leaders, think that the threat of global warming is 1) far off in the future and therefore someone else's problem; 2) a temperature rise that they can tolerate; 3) sea level rise that we can avoid by moving if we have to; 4) hurricanes, which will probably hit somewhere else; and finally 5) something we humans can change whenever we put our minds to it.
Global warming is happening now. 2005 was the hottest year in the last 10,000. The six hottest years on record have all occurred in the last eight years. There are a lot of positive feedback loops (like melting permafrost which releases methane) that will both accelerate it and generate huge momentum. My generation will see the disappearance of the snows on Kilimanjaro. Our children will see the loss of the north pole ice cap and the extinction of polar bears. Diseases are already expanding. Rising temperatures have caused dozens of frog species to become extinct in the past generation. The spread of the deadly chytrid fungus has wiped out dozens of species of harlequin frogs in recent years. The oceans are becoming more acidic, which could impact the phytoplankton and zooplankton at the base of the food chain.
This issue will overwhelm us if we don't focus on it right now. Katrina turned a good part of the USA into a third world country in a couple of hours. Our government has yet to make meaningful progress on the $75 billion (yes, billion) cost of cleanup and a new hurricane season is a month away. What will happen to each of us if the insurance companies stop writing policies?
We humans are changing the climate. The debate is well over on that score. President Bush may want to get his advice on this topic from a science fiction writer, but the science isn't fiction. There is no debate on this in the science community. The earth and all the species on the earth are subject to natural laws. It doesn't matter what anyone's opinion is; natural laws just work. You don't argue with gravity, you are just subject to it.
Global warming will accelerate until we humans bring the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere down. And right now they are going up. How much time to we have? I heard a 10-year-old boy ask a scientist that question last week. Another scientist, NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, thinks we have 10 years. But whatever the answer is, it isn't a lot of time. How much time have we already taken debating the Cape Wind proposal? I am struck, though, by what is going on in the head of a 10 year old boy who asks that question. It dawns on me how tenuous is the bond between my generation and his. What happens to his outlook when the answer becomes, "Too late." He is going to become one very angry young man, and he will have every right to be angry at us. What forms will that anger take? How will that alter our political agenda? This is what I think when I look at my children and my grand-children.
So, to Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Kerry and Congressman Frank, I say, "For me this is very personal, and it overwhelms everything else." You and other political leaders need to work on many issues (and for the most part I have always agreed with you on them). But this is the one issue I'm going to judge you on. It's the one issue I'm going to judge gubernatorial candidates on. It's the one issue I'm going to judge our mayor on. And most importantly, it is the one issue I am going to judge myself on.
We don't have the luxury of time. We don't have the luxury of easy options. If you don't support Cape Wind, then show us something else. How about nuclear power? France gets 80 percent of its power from a source that emits no greenhouse gases. But what you support needs to be as real as Cape Wind.
We can meet this challenge. Under the leadership of FDR, we met the challenge of a worldwide depression and Adolf Hitler. Under the leadership of JFK, we secured primacy in space for peaceful purposes. We have the technology.
We didn't leave the Stone Age because we ran out of stones. And we can leave the oil age before we run out of time. And so many actions that we can take will benefit us in so many ways. If we raised average fuel efficiency by 7 miles per gallon (it hasn't been raised in over 20 years!), we wouldn't need to import mid-east oil. There are jobs to be created in these new technologies. Public awareness is spreading like wildfire. This issue, once confined to science journals, made magazine covers this month in Time, Wired, and Vanity Fair.
We need leaders. Our country, by refusing to endorse the Kyoto Accord, is turning its back on the rest of the world and on our own children. But 230 U.S. cities, including seven in Massachusetts aren't waiting for the country to act. They have already committed themselves to Kyoto. More are signing up each day. Where is New Bedford on this?
We need leaders who understand the scale of this issue and who will lead us into action now. The harlequin frog could deal with sea-level rise, higher temperatures and hurricanes. It couldn't deal with a fungus. We are a species, too.