08/31/2006 08:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Terminator Jumps on Board

Sacramento -- America kept moving today. California legislative leaders and Governor Schwarzenegger announced agreement on a very tough bill to begin reducing the state's emissions of greenhouse pollutants. The bill, AB 32, calls for a 25 percent reduction in the state's emissions of greenhouse gasses by 2020, a much greater step than any other state has committed to. Schwarzenegger had wanted a significantly weaker version of the bill, to try to straddle the split in the California business community, with oil and the Chamber of Commerce opposing the idea altogether, while Silicon Valley and one of the state's three utilities, PG&E, supported it. But the Democratic leaders in the legislature refused to give in to the Governor's urgings to water the bill down and, in the end, the Terminator jumped on board.

Simultaneously, in Washington, D.C., the largest coalition ever assembled as petitioners in a Supreme Court environmental case filed their briefs asking the Court to order the EPA to exercise its duty under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse pollutants. The case will decide the fate of an entire series of state efforts to take the lead in regulating greenhouse gases, notably California's pioneering Pavley bill, which sets sharply reduced allowances for CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles. The original case was brought by twelve states and three cities, led by Massachusetts, joined by the Sierra Club and several other environmental organizations. These original parties have been joined as amicus by another six states, two utility companies (Entergy and Calpine) four former Administrators of EPA, climate scientists, Alaska tribal groups, religious organizations, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the Aspen Ski Corporation.

The issue facing the Court is supremely simple. Did Congress mean it in the Clean Air Act when it instructed the Administrator of the EPA to regulate "any pollutant" that it found caused harm to "weather and climate." Carbon dioxide is clearly a pollutant that might harm weather and climate. The EPA does not deny these facts. The EPA simply insists that Congress did not mean these words, and therefore that it can ignore them, and that if Congress did mean them, it would be "bad policy" to comply with them.

The global warming deniers are, of course, still fighting: The leading opponents are, as usual, the auto industry; but it has been joined by ten states: Texas, Michigan, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, and Ohio. This is ironic, since the Governors of all these states, except Michigan, Ohio, and Nebraska, belong to the Western Governors Association, and have already adopted and supported a policy that calls for exactly the kind of national action on global warming that our lawsuit demands:

"Science supports the fact that climate change is occurring, is influenced by human activity, and presents risks that should be addressed through changed practices and preparation for changed conditions.... Western Governors support national, regional, and state-level policies on global climate change that are consistent with efforts to develop cost-effective alternative energy sources and more efficient use of energy in mobile and stationary sources."

But when these kinds of coalitions are coming together on both coasts, it's fair to say that the landscape is shifting rapidly.

This Is What the Scientists Told Us Global Warming Would Be Like

A U.N. Conference meeting in Davos, Switzerland, learned that rapidly melting glaciers and permafrost were creating major potential for catastrophic new disasters in high altitude regions. "Scientists may be fighting a losing battle in their efforts to keep pace with the fast rate of change to mountain environments caused by rising temperatures. There was a sense of urgency at the International Disaster Reduction Conference in Davos this week and a belief that an integrated approach was needed to prevent huge loss of life. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently issued a strong warning that rapidly melting ice sheets in the Himalayas have formed numerous glacial lakes - around 4,000 in Nepal and Bhutan alone -- which threatened to burst. An Indian expert told the Davos conference that a "glacial lake outburst flood" in Nepal in 1985 killed nearly 10,000 people. Not only life but also livelihoods are at risk, Dipayan Dey of the South Asian Forum for Environment said."

And This Is What We Can Do About It

Scientific American reports that while contrails from day flights may actually reduce global warming, contrails from night flights greatly increase it -- so "To fight global warming, kiss the red-eye good-bye." Contrails from day flights reflect sunshine back into space; those from nights only increase water vapor, which slows down radiation of heat from the atmosphere, and exacerbates warming.