It's Getting HOT in Here

What are we doing about Global Warming?

By Lina Maria Lesmes

If you can remember the 1970s with clarity, you would congratulate many a policy maker for doing something about our environment. Since that time, we have witnessed improvements in air and water quality in most of our cities, vastly better waste management practices, and a reduction in the use of extremely toxic fertilizers and pesticides.

But what were once mostly local and regional environmental problems have become far more dangerous national and international issues. The most pressing environmental challenges of our time cross political boundaries, and have manifested themselves as a hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

But...let's not call it global warming, let's call it what it is: Climate Change. The change in climate is not just a rise in temperature, it encompasses more frequent violent storms and hurricanes, the melting of the ice caps, the destruction of habitat, the rise in the level of the ocean, more frequent floods, and more frequent natural disasters.

For mountain communities, this could translate into drier seasons, manifested in less snow and shorter ski seasons. What is scarier still is that all these events would be part of a cycle that would continually feed on itself, making the possible consequences of this environmental problem as serious as those of most doomsday scenarios.

From Nov. 13-24, governments from all over the world will be meeting in The Hague, the Netherlands, for the 6th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP6. This conference is important because governments will need to agree on the rules for operating the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in 1997, and signed by many countries within its first year. Although country governments had been discussing the issue of climate change since 1993, the Kyoto Protocol was the first and only international agreement that actually called for the targeted reduction of emissions of global warming gases from the industrialized world.

Since the endless negotiations that lead to the Kyoto Protocol, very little has happened. While targets were set for industrialized countries to reduce their global warming gas emissions, and everybody agreed that this was a monumental concession, few countries have made concerted efforts to make these agreements a reality. The United States, for instance, in spite of being the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, has taken few steps to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and make it into domestic law.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for cooperation and immediate action. COP6 in The Hague will aim to iron out some of the remaining details so that we will begin to see more ratifications of the agreement, but the negotiations promise to be very political, technical, and filled with controversy. Some of the details that need to be worked out include how the measuring of emissions will be done, how to help developing nations industrialize in a more "clean" fashion, and how to incorporate market mechanisms into the equation in a fair manner. Many speculate that the negotiations could be mired by the introduction of loopholes into the treaty that will allow industrialized nations to meet their targets on paper without having to reduce actual emissions.

So what does all this politicizing and negotiating have to do with Summit County? Whether we ski everyday, once a month, or hardly ever, the ski industry plays an important role in the lives of everyone in Summit County and in Colorado. Have you stopped to wonder why the last few winters have been so devastating for the ski industry? Climate Change has been offered as a possible reason.

But even if you don't care what happens to the ski industry, maybe the following will get your attention. There are low lying island countries in the South Pacific that will be completely submerged should the level of the ocean rise no more than a meter, or 3 feet. Have you ever been to the Everglades? A rise in the level of the ocean there will put a chunk of this beautiful park underwater.

We all have a stake in encouraging our political leaders to face the Climate Change problem. Not only do we need to support and ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but we should also support anyone that calls for serious measures to improve energy efficiency, renewable energy technology, and cleaner fuels. That our actions have affected the climate is not in question, that we should do something about it shouldn't be either.

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