It’s time to get serious about climate change

By Chris Gregoire

Special to The Seattle Times

As we celebrate the 38th annual Earth Day on Sunday, it’s clear that in the United States we have reached a tipping point on the issue of climate change.

In boardrooms and backyards across the country, Americans are discussing what they can do to address global warming. For years, scientists, environmental groups and a certain Oscar-winning filmmaker hidden inside a politician have been calling attention to rising temperatures and the dangers they pose to the planet.

Environmentalists who were once dismissed have continued to point out the perils of global warming until the science was too strong to ignore. The questions are no longer about sound science or fuzzy math, the questions are now about solutions.

Citizens and consumers have started to take their own steps to reduce emissions by recycling, driving hybrid cars, buying “green” homes and purchasing renewable energy, and they continue to look for new ways to reduce their impact on the environment. They expect the businesses they patronize and the political leaders they elect to take action as well.

Despite a lack of leadership from the federal level, businesses as well as state and local governments are stepping up to the challenge:

• In January, CEOs of 10 of the nation’s largest corporations called for legislation that would reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent within10 years, by up to 30 percent within 15 years, and by up to 80 percent by 2050.

• In Washington, corporations including BP, Alcoa and Weyerhaeuser, and utilities such as Avista, the Snohomish County Public Utility District and Puget Sound Energy have all announced efforts to reduce their impact on the climate.

• Seattle and King County are leading cities and counties across the nation by taking steps to lower emissions, such as reducing commute trips, expanding public-transportation options and increasing the use of renewable fuels.

• In February, I joined four other Western governors in signing an agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from our respective states.

The reality of global warming is clear. In January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that our planet’s atmosphere has more greenhouse gases in it now than at any time during the past 650,000 years. Earlier this month, another assessment by the panel warned of alarming consequences, including long-lasting droughts and rising seas.

It is equally clear that humans are causing our climate to change by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. And 11 of the past 12 years have been the warmest years on record.

Here in Washington, we are experiencing the effects of climate change already. Scientists at the University of Washington tell us that temperatures in the state are rising faster than they are globally. Our state’s glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since 1950. The snowpack in the Cascades — which cities, fish and farmers rely on for water — is declining, and our summers are drier as that snowpack melts earlier each year.

We’re seeing the more-extreme weather events — droughts and forest fires, floods and storms — consistent with what scientists tell us a warmer climate brings. Last December’s devastating storms caused 15 deaths and knocked out power to more than 1 million homes.

Earlier this year, I signed an executive order setting aggressive goals for emissions reductions and creating jobs in the field of alternative energy.

To achieve these goals, the directors of the departments of Ecology and Community, Trade and Economic Development have brought together21 community leaders from around the state to develop recommendations building on my office’s earlier efforts to reduce tailpipe emissions from cars; create a market for renewable fuels like biodiesel and fund projects to produce that fuel in Washington; increase energy efficiency in buildings and products; promote the use of renewable energy; make public buildings greener; and invest in alternative-energy research.

Local utilities are also doing their part to provide renewable energy and use energy more efficiently, and with their help we will move more than halfway toward our goal of returning to 1990 emissions levels by 2020.

All of our actions together — citizens, businesses and government — will not only reduce our state’s dependence on foreign oil, but will also grow a green economy for the state of Washington.

We have made a good start, but there is much more we all must to do to preserve our environment and our quality of life. It is time for us to embrace this tipping point and act aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Citizens, business and community leaders as well as elected officials must seize this moment to tackle the challenge of climate change.

Chris Gregoire is governor of Washington state.

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