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Will Americans Sacrifice for Posterity?


Americans can adapt, one supposes, to an Alaska without polar bears, a New Hampshire without fall colors and a Florida without its bottom third. But most would probably like to save these things for their descendants. A recent Time/ABC poll found that 88 percent of Americans think global warming threatens future generations.

President Bush was never one to lose sleep over future generations — just look at his budget deficits. Add in another matter he's supremely indifferent to, the environment, and we have the Bush policy on global warming. That is, do zero to cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Actually, do less than zero. His early doubting that humans even play a role in climate change demoralized those trying to grapple with the problem.

The glad tidings are that the Bush administration no longer matters much. Even if its lawyers succeed in denying states the right to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for not regulating greenhouse gases — the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court — it won't make much difference. The Bush administration will be gone in two years, and the environmental grownups are already taking over.

For one thing, Democrat Barbara Boxer is replacing Republican James Inhofe as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe famously called human-made global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Boxer talks a bit differently. She says: "This is a potential crisis of a magnitude we've never seen," and, "Any kind of weakening of environmental laws or secrecy or changes in the dead of night is over."

For this attitudinal change, we can thank the Democrats' new majority, however slim, in the Senate. It's another reason to pray for the speedy recovery of South Dakota's Tim Johnson — and for all Senate Democrats to look both ways when they cross the street.

The 2008 election, meanwhile, will produce a new president, who could not possibly be as environmentally negligent as the current one.

All likely Democratic candidates and the leading Republican, John McCain, have identified global warming as a serious problem to which they would apply themselves.

In the Supreme Court case, Massachusetts and 11 other states are demanding that the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles. The arguments so far have largely centered on whether states have the right to sue the EPA: States must prove that they've been injured by EPA policy. One harm, explained the lawyer from Massachusetts, is the prospect of losing "sovereign territory" to rising oceans — in his state, 200 miles of coastline.

The EPA argues that the Clean Air Act covers only pollutants that are dangerous to breathe. Global warming is caused by the accumulation of otherwise harmless gases found in nature. The agency further contends that with the economies of China and India growing like mad, any cuts we make in greenhouse gases will be swamped by increases in theirs. Of course, the United States now produces 25 percent of these gases, so if we do nothing, why would anyone else?

It may be too late to save the snows of Kilimanjaro — they're going — but the snows of Greenland are still hanging on. If Greenland's massive ice sheet melts in earnest, an event that could start in this century, then coastal civilizations from London to Los Angeles might disappear under the waves.

There's no way to replace the dead Bush years of inaction. But we may have a last chance to deal with global warming. Will today's Americans sacrifice for a posterity they will never see?

This is about family values put to the acid test.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




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