It was ten years ago this week that United Nations delegates from the world's developed countries came together in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol. It is a bittersweet anniversary because it marks the first time world leaders decided joint action was needed to curtail global warming, but it also stands as a reminder today of how little distance we have traveled so far toward a solution.
Make no mistake: The danger looms larger than ever. A mid-November report from the US Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes, beyond a creditable doubt, that global warming is the greatest threat we face today as a civilization. Thousands of the world's top scientists have compiled mountains of data and now instruct us, inescapably, that our planet is at grave risk from planet warming and that we have an ever-shrinking window of time — perhaps ten years — to take steps to minimize it.
We need change at both a political and personal level.
Politically, we need to get Congress to raise fuel-economy standards for new cars; build a national energy policy based on renewable sources; demand that the United States join an international treaty that cuts global-warming pollution worldwide; and fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal.
Personally, we need to "go green" in our lives by doing such things as: replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones; recycling more; walking, biking, carpooling, or taking mass transit more often; using less hot water, since it takes lots of energy to heat water; avoiding products with lots of packaging; keeping automobile tires inflated properly to improve gas mileage by more than 3 percent; installing low-flow showerheads; moving the thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer (saving about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year); planting trees, since a single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime; turning off the television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when we're not using them to save thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year. (Find more suggestions at TheClimateProject.org.)
So there it is. This past year, renowned author and environmentalist Bill McKibben helped his students launch a campaign, rightly called "Step It Up," to remind both Congress and the American people that it's time to greatly pump up our efforts in the fight against global warming. It is going to be political, and it's got to get personal, he advises. And the changes must come very soon.
Dozens of alternative newsweeklies across the country have joined together on the tenth anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, in league with the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in Washington DC, to publishing stories all at once, with national and local content, about global warming and the significance of the Kyoto agreement. Check AltWeeklies.com to find how weeklies in various cities observed this anniversary.
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