Kevin Richert is the editorial page editor at The Idaho Statesman.
By KEVIN RICHERT
Denial and despair let us, and our politicians, off the hook.
By denying global warming—in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence—we can convince ourselves that we need not change our behavior.
By wallowing in despair—believing that global warming and its effects are irreversible—we can convince ourselves that costly changes are futile.
This is no time for denial or despair. It's a time for action. If it originates at the local or state level, so be it. In a 105-minute speech on global warming Monday night, former Vice President Al Gore took on the skeptics and the doomsayers—and challenged Idahoans to lobby on behalf of the planet they'll pass on to their children.
Gore's powerful message combines the tone of a political rally, the theatrics of a rock concert and the factual foundation of a prosecutor's opening argument. Those arguments—precise, polished and passionate—give Gore's message its real impact.
Each day, in the sum of 70 million tons, we burden the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. The myriad effects include receding glaciers, extinction rates a thousand times beyond normal, and a paradoxical weather mix of drought and increasingly intense storms.
Idaho is not immune, Gore argues effectively. Climate change contributes to disease and wildfire in the forests. Global warming could bring drier summers and lower streamflows—while early snowmelt and spring storms provide a recipe for flooding. On top of that, he says, Idaho soil could lose up to 30 percent of its moisture, essential to growing.
Yet Gore argues, with equal force, that it's not too late. Some industries—including much-maligned retail giant Wal-Mart—have moved to make their operations more environmentally friendly. The global community is well on its way to addressing the hole in the atmosphere's ozone layer, an effort that began under the Reagan administration, demonstrating that political and environmental success is possible. While the United States has refused to sign the 1997 Kyoto global warming accord, Gore rightly praised the 369 cities that have signed on. The list includes Boise, which will strive by 2012 to reduce municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent or more.
As Gore aptly puts it, political will is a renewable resource. Boise's political will poses a model to other Treasure Valley cities, and to state leaders.
A Republican Legislature and a Republican governor may be tempted to scoff at the Democrat Gore's challenge to tackle global warming. But they should not dismiss Boise City Hall's commitment. They should heed the national leadership position taken by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican, who has pushed a first-of-its-kind state cap on greenhouse gas emissions, including industrial plant emissions.
And they would be foolish to ignore a sellout crowd of 10,000, engaged enough to pack a basketball arena on a Monday night to hear a presentation on global warming. It was the largest audience to hear Gore's presentation in one sitting, said Garry Wenske, executive director of Boise State University's Frank Church Institute, which sponsored the speech.
The crowd stems in part from Gore's standing as, in his words, the nation's former next president. This same celebrity status also makes Gore a target for critics. But Gore's message, to those who would give themselves a pass on global warming, transcends celebrity and demands attention.