Madison IMC: Congress Fuels Global Warming by Passing Transportation Budget
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Congress Fuels Global Warming by Passing Transportation Budget
Thursday, 08 April 2004
by Michael T. Neuman
Summary: While looking the other way on the growing threat of global warming, the U.S. Congress quietly passed its massive pork-filled $275 transportation bill last Friday, virtually assuring global warming will accelerate in the coming years and decades, as Americans continue to drive more miles, burn more gasoline, and fly more often.
The House voted 357-65 in favor of the bill, while the Senate had already voted 76 to 21 back on February 12, 2004. The largest share of the six-year transportation plan, as always, goes for highway capacity expansion: to make highways wider and freeways even more numerous, so that they can accommodate projected increased volumes of greenhouse gas emitting motorized traffic.
With 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. already emits 25% of the heat-capturing gases emitted by human sources to the atmosphere as a product of fuel burning. Although invisible, the gases are known to be accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere to levels 30 percent in excess of the highest concentration reached in 400,000 plus years.
Over one-third of the U.S.’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, with 60 percent of those emissions coming from Americans driving cars and SUVs over 1.6 trillion miles a year.
The Department of Transportation reports that Americans burned upwards of 127 billion gallons of fuel in cars, SUVs and motorcycles in 2001. Another 35 billions was burned in commercial trucking, while 15 billion gallons of jet fuel was combusted in 2001 alone. The greenhouse gas residuals from these emissions accumulate in the atmosphere from year to year, so the amounts are additive over periods of decades and centuries. That is what makes global warming so dangerous. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not reduce the warming, only the rate of warming.
“We are quickly moving to the point where the damage will be
irreversible”, warned Dr. Jonathan Pershing, director of the
Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) in releasing the WRI’s March 11 report marking ten years after the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol’s parent document, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. “In fact, the latest scientific reports indicate that global warming is worsening. Unless we act now, the world will be locked into temperatures that would cause irreversible harm”, he said.
WRI researchers estimate that greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide rose 11 percent over the last decade, and will grow another 50 percent by 2020.
UN chief Kofi Annan’s warned in a message marking the UNFCCC’s 10th anniversary that: “Some of (the) effects (of climate change) are by now inevitable and, indeed, we may already be seeing -- in the increased incidence of drought, floods and extreme weather events that many regions are experiencing -- some of the devastation that lies ahead”. “I call again on those countries that have not yet ratified the (Kyoto) Protocol to do so, and show that they are truly committed to shouldering their global responsibilities”, he said.
Last year already, Europe suffered its hottest year on record, killing over 35,000 people with 15,000 deaths in France alone due to heat stress while European agriculture suffered an estimated $12.5 billion in losses.
Scientists at the University of Bern, led by Dr. Jurg
Luterbacker, collected data from meteorological stations around Europe to compile an accurate record of temperatures dating back to 1659. To reach further back in time they studied diaries kept by monks and scientists that described the weather and signs of the changing seasons, such a flowers blooming and lakes freezing.
The records show that Europe was on average 3.6 degrees
Fahrenheit warmer in the summer of 2003 than the average summer temperature over nearly the entire 20th century. “We don't know if it will get warmer every year, but the trend is certainly in that direction”, said Dr. Luterbacker. “The problem is that many people in Europe don't know how to cope when they happen”, he said. “We expect the temperature to keep rising over Europe”, added Simon Brown, an expert in extreme events at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter.
Researchers at the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International after studying six regions around the world representing 20 percent of the planet’s land projected in January 2004 that climate change between now and 2050 will place 15 to 37 percent of all species in several biodiversity-rich regions at risk of extinction, including fully 30 to 40 percent of South African Proteaceae, a family of flowering plants that includes South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea.
Meanwhile, a recent political memo (2/4/04) obtained by the UK’s The Observer addressed to press secretaries of all Republican congressmen giving advice on what Republican Congressmen should say when questioned on the environment in the upcoming November’s Presidential election says to say that everything is rosy:
“From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on
forests; from the muddled talk on our nation’s waters to the
conviction on air pollution ... “Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming “Doomsday!” when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day”.
“They have a head-in-the-sand approach to it”, says Vermont
Senator Jim Jeffords who left the Republican Party in 2001 to become an independent, calling the memo “outlandish” and an attempt to deceive voters. “They're just sloughing off the human health impacts - the premature deaths and asthma attacks”, Jeffords said in reference to ever increasing fossil fuel burning in power plants, motor vehicles and jet airplanes.
Republican House Conference director Greg Cist reportedly sent the email, saying “It’s up to our members if they want to use it or not”, and that the memo was spurred by concerns that environmental groups were using myths to try to make Republicans look bad. “We wanted to show how the environment has been improving, Cist said, “we wanted to provide the other side of the story”, he said.
The House passed their transportation reauthorization
bill H.R. 3550 called TEA-LU April 2. The next step is the conference committee, where differences between TEA-LU and
the Senate bill, SAFETEA, which was passed in February, will be reconciled. The House and the Senate will name their conferees in the next few weeks, and they could start work as soon as late April.
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