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In a couple of generations, rising sea levels will put Manhattan underwater up to Wall Street.

Related Gully Coverage

Bush Secedes from Kyoto, Establishes Rogue State

The U.S. Cut Greenhouse Gasses? When Pigs Fly

Greening The Democrats


Morris Adjmi design for the World Trade Center site exhibited at the Max Protetch Gallery in Manhattan, January 2002.

Global Warming: Bush Fiddles While New York Burns

by Kelly Cogswell

JUNE 6, 2002. Quibble long enough over plans to rebuild the World Trade Center area, and they will become a moot point, if you believe the report sent Friday to the United Nations by Bush's own Environmental Protection Agency.

The report, besides acknowledging the role of human activities in global warming, suggests that in a couple of generations rising sea levels will put Manhattan underwater up to Wall Street. So unless you wanted to put a superduper marina where the towers stood, fuhgedaboudit.

New Orleans will disappear entirely without a major dike system. Many Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal barrier islands will likely vanish. Forest regions in the Southeastern United States could see "major species shifts," or major changes in growth patterns.

The West, Pacific Northwest and Alaska may experience drought conditions and changing snowfall patterns. Sage brush won't be just for Texas anymore. And with higher sea levels, "coastal regions could be subject to increased wind and flood damage, even if tropical storms do not change in intensity," the report said.

The good news, theoretically, is that if global warming is even partially caused by human activities, it is under our control. We can slow it or reverse it by reducing oil refining, power plants and automobile emissions. The U.S., responsible for about a third of the industrialized world's greenhouse gas, could be one of the leaders in turning the situation around.

Washing His Hands of It
George W. is already distancing himself from the findings, dismissing them as "the report put out by the bureaucracy." Early in his term, Bush already rejected the Kyoto Treaty citing efforts would be too costly to the U.S. economy. The treaty calls on developed countries to reduce emissions by about 7 percent from 1990 levels during 2008-2012.

While there may be some economic impact, it may not be all bad. Total European Union emissions were down 3.5 percent in 2000. The biggest cuts have been made by Britain and Germany, which have two of the biggest economies in the EU. Britain has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12.5 percent by using less coal and more natural gas to generate electricity. Germany's emissions fell by 19 percent, largely due to the closing of inefficient and dirty industry.

Coincidentally, on Friday, as the EPA report was released, all 15 European Union nations ratified the Kyoto pact. Margot Wallstrom, European commissioner for the environment, took the opportunity to ask the U.S. to act like a leader, not a rogue state.

"The United States is the only nation to have spoken out against and rejected the global framework for addressing climate change. The European Union urges the United States to reconsider its position," she said. "All countries have to act, but the industrialized world has to take the lead."

Facing the Heat
Bush may face pressure on both sides of the Atlantic. If the protests that greeted him at every step of his European tour are any indication, activists there may take up the pre-9/11 idea of boycotting U.S. energy companies.

In Dallas last week, there were homegrown protests, both outside and inside ExxonMobil's annual meeting. A shareholders' resolution calling on the company to take renewable energy more seriously picked up 20 per cent of the vote — more than double last year's level.

The interest in energy alternatives may not just be a response to growing piles of data on global warming, but to a growing unease at U.S. dependence on Arab oil and a desire to extract American interests from volatile regions. The result is the same.

It is this strain of conservative, isolationist America that will have to be tapped into to make any progress on the U.S. global warming front. Framing "green" issues in terms of morality, acting responsibly for the world, just won't work. Even the name "global" warming signals more international involvement than Americans are comfortable with, even after the 9/11 wake up call. They need local facts to sink their teeth into, and local solutions that will also allow activists to do an end run around Bush and the auto, electric, and oil interests backing him.

Dry in New York
New Yorkers, like other Americans feeling the effects of altered weather patterns, are ripe for mobilizing. Mired in a Stage One Drought Emergency after 17 recent months of below average precipitation, we are already feeling the environmental effects of global warming.

Journalists caution the public to save water, flush infrequently, while wittily quoting the hit Broadway musical, Urinetown, in which one character sings: "Twenty years we've had the drought / And our reservoirs have all dried up. / I take my baths now in a coffee cup. / I boil what's left of it for tea. / And it's a privilege to pee."

In a generation, that may not be an exaggeration. Between reservoirs polluted by increased population and urban sprawl, an aging infrastructure that wastes water through massive leaks, profligate users, and tens of thousands more thirsty mouths a year, New Yorkers may soon be up a creek without any water.

The back up plans, including getting water from the Hudson River just south of Poughkeepsie, increasing the now very limited pumping from city-owned wells, or tapping into the Brooklyn-Queens aquifer, where rainfall is naturally stored in gaps between rock layers, are all vulnerable to oceans rising from global warming and filling them with undrinkable salt water.

The EPA already gave notice to the city in 1989, in the multi-volume report, The Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the United States. "The most pressing, and perhaps largest problem facing the city may be the impacts ... on water supply adequacy." This report concluded twelve years ago that "the long lead times in water project development argue for the incorporation of climate effects in water supply planning now."

For Bush Secedes from Kyoto, Establishes Rogue State

For The U.S. Cut Greenhouse Gasses? When Pigs Fly

For Greening The Democrats

Related links:

For the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Global Warming.

For Keeping New York City out of Hot Water, a report on the impact of global warming on NYC.

For Good To The Last Drop? Gotham Gazette's coverage of New York's drought.

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U.S. politics and the Bush administrationAll about the morass of U.S. politics, George W. Bush, Dems, Greens, GOPs, activists, silently irritated masses and global impact.


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