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Fighting Catastrophic Climate Change: Maryland's Paltry Proposal

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"If you think mitigated climate change is expensive, try unmitigated climate change."

Dr. Richard Gammon, Professor of Chemistry, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has proposed legislation, ironically called "The Global Warming Solutions Act," the bill requires reductions in statewide greenhouse gas emissions of 25% from 2006 levels by 2020. Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Kumar Barve are sponsors of the bill in the Maryland General Assembly.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) calls this "terrific news," and asks us to thank Governor O'Malley for this legislation. It's likely the legislation got watered down in the negotiation process with labor union leaders, environmentalists and manufacturers, but whatever the reason, it offers way too little, way too late. It amounts to unmitigated climate change. Maryland is fiddling while the earth burns.

If this were an ordinary issue incremental steps may be appropriate. But this crisis is perhaps the most daunting challenge ever faced by humanity. Our survival on this planet may depend on a swift, dramatic response.

There is scientific consensus that we are in the midst of a worldwide emergency with catastrophic climate change -- the human-made, warming-driven destabilization of the earth's climate system. The problem is caused primarily by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels (like coal and oil) and deforestation.

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In 1990, the statured scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the world that to stop catastrophic climate change we must reduce greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, by 60-80% immediately.

Nineteen years later, the world has done little to reduce greenhouse gases or avert the threat of catastrophic climate change. In 2001 the IPCC said that global warming was increasing 50% faster than originally believed. And the IPCC are the conservatives in this debate.

What is needed is a cut in atmospheric greenhouse gases, 80% below 1990 levels as soon as possible, but no later than 2025. We need immediate leadership, far bolder than the Maryland legislation or anything currently proposed. We don't need capitulation to the industries or interest groups that got us into this mess.

Without decisive action to reverse catastrophic climate change, we face devastation from the resulting severe storms, rising sea levels, insect infestation, disease, flooding, drought and fire. Without adequate mitigation, we will likely be unable to cope with the resulting temperature and weather extremes of all sorts.

Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On, says that our response to the crisis of global warming must be "the social counterpart to a climate snap -- a rapid, immense, worldwide gathering of political will " if humanity is to survive.

Susan Solomon, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recently concluded that climate change is irreversible. Solomon does not see this prognosis as a reason to give up, but rather as a mandate to get our solution right. She said, "I guess if it's irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it," as reported by NPR.

James Hansen, top climate scientist at NASA said, "We have passed tipping points, but we have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back, but it is going to require a quick turn in direction."

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Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of several types of greenhouse gases. CO2 levels have risen higher in the past 100 years, than at any other time in the past 400,000 years. CO2 has a half life of 30 to 100 years. That means that even if we dramatically cut CO2 emissions tomorrow, what's up there in the atmosphere, will take a LONG time to come down.

In his paper, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Society Aim," NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen said recently, "The evidence indicates...that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350ppm."

The Maryland legislation would cut CO2 emissions, but not cut the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. If atmospheric levels of C02 stand at 382ppm today and rise 2ppm annually, we'll have 408ppm CO2 in the atmosphere by 2020. Even with the minimal cuts in emissions proposed in the Maryland legislation, we will still be well past the upper limits of the danger zone.

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Karyn Strickler is a political scientist, grassroots organizer and writer. She is founder and president of Vote Climate U.S. PAC, working to elect candidates to get off fossil fuels and put a price on carbon. Karyn is the former host and (more...)

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