Why state must fight global warming now

The General Assembly has an opportunity to take real action on global warming. The Global Warming Solutions Act would cut our greenhouse gas pollution 25 percent by 2020 and 90 percent by 2050, as recommended by the governor’s Commission on Climate Change.

Why now? Because we can’t continue to wait and debate. The damage to Maryland’s economy and to our environment – particularly the Chesapeake Bay – if we do nothing is far too great a cost to bear.

With 3,100 miles of shoreline, Maryland is the fourth-most-vulnerable state to the effects of global warming. Rising sea levels, stronger and more frequent storms, and severe weather patterns that threaten our agricultural sustainability, tourism and urban centers could spell disaster for Maryland’s economy.

Conversely, the Global Warming Solutions Act would mean significant investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green buildings, creating “green-collar” jobs for Marylanders and saving taxpayers money in the long run, while reversing an environmentally destructive trend.

Recently enacted legislation, including the Healthy Air Act, the “clean car” law and other bills, will achieve more than one-quarter of the reductions required by this bill. The rest would come from a major new statewide energy-efficiency program, increased use of renewable energy and clean fuels, Smart Growth measures, green building codes and the construction of small, efficient power plants to gradually replace massive, old-fashioned plants. Other reductions would come from carbon sequestration projects, such as planting forest buffers along tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, innovative agricultural practices and saltwater marsh restoration.

The White House has failed to join international accords to address climate change. Why should we expect nations such as China and India to join these efforts if the historically worst polluter does not? We no longer can wait for the federal government to act. Even if voters elect a pro-environment president in November, there is still a long battle ahead in Congress. If Maryland joins other states – California, New Jersey and Hawaii – that have adopted legislation to fight global warming, it can only hasten Congress, and the White House, to approve national policy.

Some of the most progressive policies in our nation – including civil rights, labor and environmental laws – were first enacted at the state level, years or even decades before the federal government followed suit. Joining with other states, Maryland acted to improve energy efficiency on appliances and regulate car emissions before the federal government did something.

People in Maryland are concerned about far-off problems such as ice caps melting, polar bears dying and disasters like Hurricane Katrina striking. But they are also increasingly troubled at the signs of global warming they see every day, such as shorelines being rapidly lost and wildlife being affected by changing habitat and migration. Memories of Tropical Storm Isabel – the Inner Harbor flooded, the days without power, the unsafe drinking water – remain fresh.

Maryland has an enormous responsibility – some would say a moral responsibility – to take action on global warming and make the state a national leader on one of the most critical issues of our time. The effects of global warming on our fragile state won’t wait, and neither should we.

Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

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