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Scientists predict that global warming will have serious effects on public health, from
worsening air quality, degradation of food and water supplies, and increasing levels
of allergens to heat waves, flooding, and changing patterns of mosquito, tick, and
flea-borne disease. Fortunately, early action by city managers, health officials, and
the federal government can reduce the impact of these problems on our health by
preparing and responding appropriately to the effects of global warming. But we must
start now. Because climate change is already damaging human and environmental
health and welfare, preparedness projects must get underway even as we pursue
aggressive regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many communities are
already extremely vulnerable to climate-related impacts and will remain so for years
to come, regardless of proposed greenhouse gas regulations, unless there is
sustained support for improving preparedness so that a changing society can adapt
to a changing climate.


In the last 100 years, the Earth's average surface temperature has risen by
about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius), and it may climb 2.5 to 10 degrees
Fahrenheit (1.5 to 6 degrees Celsius) higher by 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts.


Now that the risk of global nuclear war is remote, arguably the greatest threat
facing our planet is global warming. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, climate
change will bring uncertainty and hardship almost everywhere. Just as nuclear
Armageddon would have resulted from human failures, global warming is the product
of the activities and decisions of humankind. Scientists have ascertained that global
warming is under way, and they believe that climate change is very likely happening
now. It causes increased frequency of severe weather events like floods and
droughts, the spread of pathogens to new areas, adverse changes in agricultural
yields, increased human mortality from heat and cold, coastal erosion and damage
from the rise in sea level, melting glaciers, and a host of other troubles. These
problems will harm the poorest countries and peoples the most due to their
vulnerable locations and limited resources, which make it difficult or impossible for
them to adapt.1

There is uncertainty about the precise pace and effects of climate change.
However, one refrain that permeates the literature is that scientific uncertainty is no
justification for inaction. While substantial global warming and the resulting change in
climate cannot be avoided, they can be mitigated, and those suffering from them can
be aided in their efforts to adapt.



Recent scenes of Beijing smog so thick it made noon look like an apocalyptic
dusk, were a vivid reminder to world leaders meeting at the climate change summit in
Paris, of the urgent need is to reduce both greenhouse gases and the particulates
that cause smog.

All this has caused a dramatic change in how Chinas leaders approach the
issue of climate change. Just a few years ago, at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on
climate change, Chinese negotiators argued that Western countries became affluent
through their century or more of dirty development, and now it was Chinas turn.


Many people and governments are already working hard to cut greenhouse
gases, and everyone can help.


Governments have signed treaties on climate change, even if they have done
relatively little compared to the magnitude of the problem to enact them. Most notably,
in 1992 the developed countries agreed to the Framework Convention on Climate
Change, which called on them to reduce voluntarily their greenhouse gas emissions
to 1990 levels by the year 2000. They did not do so. In 1997 they agreed to the Kyoto
Protocol, which requires ratifying states to reduce their emissions overall by about 5
percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Most will not do so. Indeed, the emissions of
most industrialized countries, particularly the United States, which repudiated the
treaty in 2001, continue to increase. To their credit, at least from the perspective of
equity, these nations did not require poor countries to reduce their emissions. But
persuading those countries at least to limit their emissions eventually will be essential,
simply because they are overtaking the industrialized countries as the primary
sources of climate pollution.

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ACarbon SequestrationThe simplest way to sequester carbon is to preserve trees

and to plant more.Trees, especially young and fast-growing ones, soak up a great
deal of carbondioxide, break it down in photosynthesis, and store the carbon in new
wood.Worldwide, forests are being cut down at an alarming rate, particularly in
thetropics. In many areas, there is little regrowth as land loses fertility or ischanged to
other uses, such as farming or building housing developments.Reforestation could
offset these losses and counter part of the greenhousebuildup. Many companies and
governments in the United States, Norway,Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, and Australia
have initiated reforestation projects. InGuatemala, the AES Corporation, a U.S.-
based electrical company, has joinedforces with the World Resources Institute and
the relief agency CARE to createcommunity woodlots and to teach local residents
about tree-farming practices.The trees planted are expected to absorb up to 58
million tons of carbondioxide over 40 years. Carbon dioxide gas can also be
sequestered directly.Carbon dioxide has traditionally been injected into oil wells to
force morepetroleum out of the ground or seafloor. Now it is being injected simply
toisolate it underground in oil fields, coal beds, or aquifers. At one natural gasdrilling
platform off the coast of Norway, carbon dioxide brought to the surfacewith the
natural gas is captured and reinjected into an aquifer from which
itcannot escape. The same process can be used to store carbon dioxidereleased by
a power plant, factory, or any large stationary source. Deep oceanwaters could also
absorb a great deal of carbon dioxide. The feasibility
andenvironmental effects of both these options are now under study byinternational
teams. In an encouraging trend, energy use around the world hasslowly shifted away
from fuels that release a great deal of carbon dioxidetoward fuels that release
somewhat less of this heat-trapping gas. Wood wasthe first major source of energy
used by humans. With the dawn of theIndustrial Revolution in the 18thcentury, coal
became the dominant energysource. By the mid-19th century oil had replaced coal in
dominance, fueling theinternal combustion engines that were eventually used in
automobiles. By the20thcentury, natural gas began to be used worldwide for heating
and lighting.In this progression, combustion of natural gas releases less carbon
dioxidethan oil, which in turn releases less of the gas than do either coal or
wood.Nuclear energy, though controversial for reasons of safety and the high costsof
nuclear waste disposal, releases no carbon dioxide at all. Solar power,
windpower, and hydrogen fuel cells also emit no greenhouse gases. Someday these
alternative energy sources may prove to be practical, low-pollutionenergy sources,
although progress today is slow.BNational and Local ProgramsThe developed
countries are all working to reduce greenhouse emissions.Several European
countries impose heavy taxes on energy usage, designedpartly to curb such
emissions. Norway taxes industries according to the amountof carbon dioxide they
emit. In The Netherlands, government and industry
havenegotiated agreements aimed at increasing energy efficiency, promotingalternati
ve energy sources, and cutting down greenhouse gas output. In
theUnited States, the Department of Energy, the Environmental ProtectionAgency,
product manufacturers, local utilities, and retailers have
collaboratedto implement the Energy Star program. This voluntary program ratesappl
iances for energy use and gives some money back to consumers who buyefficient
machines. The Canadian government has established the FleetWiseprogram to cut
carbon dioxide emissions from federal vehicles by reducing thenumber of vehicles it
owns and by training drivers to use them more efficiently.By 2004, 75 percent of
Canadian federal vehicles are to run on alternativefuels, such as methanol
and ethanol. Many local governments are also workingagainst greenhouse emissions
by conserving energy in buildings, modernizingtheir vehicles, and advising the public.
Individuals, too, can take steps. Thesame choices that reduce other kinds of pollution
work against global warming.Every time a consumer buys an energy efficient
appliance; adds insulation to ahouse; recycles paper, metal, and
glass; chooses to live near work; or commutes by public transportation, he or she is
fighting global warming.CInternational AgreementsInternational cooperation is
required for the successful reduction of greenhousegases. In 1992 at the
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 150 countriespledged to confront the problem
of greenhouse gases and agreed to meetagain to translate these good intentions
into a binding treaty. In 1997 in Japan,160 nations drafted a much stronger
agreement known as the Kyto Protocol.This treaty, which has not yet been
implemented, calls for the 38 industrializedcountries that now release the most
greenhouse gases to cut their emissions tolevels 5 percent below those of 1990.
This reduction is to be achieved no later than 2012. Initially, the United States
voluntarily accepted a more ambitioustarget, promising to reduce emissions to 7
percent below 1990 levels; theEuropean Union, which had wanted a much tougher
treaty, committed to 8percent; and Japan, to 6 percent. The remaining 122 nations,
mostlydeveloping nations, were not asked to commit to a reduction in gas
emissions.But in 2001 newly elected U.S. president George W. Bush renounced the
treatysaying that such carbon dioxide reductions in the United States would be
toocostly. He also objected that developing nations would not be bound by
similar carbon dioxide reducing obligations. The Kyto Protocol could not go into
effectunless industrial nations accounting for 55 percent of 1990 greenhouse
gasemissions ratified it. That requirement was met in 2004 when the cabinet
of Russian president Vladimir Putin approved the treaty, paving the way for it togo
into effect in 2005.Some critics find the Kyto Protocol
too weak. Even if it were enforcedimmediately, it would only slightly slow the buildup
of greenhouse gases in theatmosphere. Much stronger action would be required later,
particularly becausethe developing nations exempted from the Kyto rules are
expected to producehalf the worlds greenhouse gases by 2035. The most influential
opponents of the protocol, however, find it too strong. Opposition to the treaty in the
UnitedStates is spurred by the oil industry, the coal industry, and other
enterprisesthat manufacture or depend on fossil fuels. These opponents claim that
theeconomic costs to carry out the Kyto Protocol could be as much as $300billion,
due mainly to higher energy prices. Proponents of the Kyto sanctionsbelieve the
costs will prove more modest$88 billion or lessmuch of whichwill be recovered
as Americans save money after switching to more efficientappliances, vehicles, and
industrial processes. Behind the issue of cost lies alarger question: Can an economy
grow without increasing its greenhouse gasemissions at the same time? In the past,
prosperity and pollution have tendedto go together. Can they now be separated, or
decoupled, as economists say?In nations with strong environmental policies,
economies have continued togrow even as many types of pollution have been
reduced. However, limiting theemission of carbon dioxide has proved especially
difficult. For example, TheNetherlands, a heavily industrialized country that is also
an environmentalleader, has done very well against most kinds of pollution but has
failed to meetits goal of reducing carbon dioxide output. After 1997 representatives to
theKyto Protocol met regularly to negotiate a consensus about certainunresolved
issues , such as the rules, methods, and penalties that should beenforced in each
country to slow greenhouse emissions. The negotiatorsdesigned a system in which
nations with successful cleanup programs couldprofit by selling unused pollution
rights to other nations. For example, nationsthat find further improvement difficult,
such as The Netherlands, could buypollution credits on the market, or perhaps
earn them by helping reducegreenhouse gas emissions in less developed countries,
where more can beachieved at less expense. Russia, in particular, stood to benefit
from thissystem. In 1990 the Russian economy was in a shambles, and its
greenhousegas emissions were huge. Since then Russia has already cut its
emissions bymore than 5 percent below 1990 levels and is in a position to sell
emissioncredits to other industrialized countries, particularly those
in the EuropeanUnion (EU)



Chinese leaders used to argue that pollution was a small price to pay for
prosperity. Over Chinas last two decades of scorching growth, it favoured its
cheapest available source of energy coal often burned inefficiently. Made in
China came with emissions. Chinese manufacturers churned out iPhones,
computers, clothes and toys, made more cheaply in China, in part because
regulations on emissions were lax. According to a recent report in Nature Climate
Change, some one-fifth to one-third of Chinese climate change-causing emissions
came from manufacturing for export putting inexpensive goods into the hands of
Walmart shoppers.