Scientists, traditionally the world's most cautious human beings, are now saying we have less than ten years before we reach the point of no return on slowing global warming. Tony Blair has said seven (and, since we are making predictions, I say five). Either way, we need to get busy fast.
Thankfully, we had a number of effective voices being raised on the issue this week, led by Barak Obama and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (who coined the catch phrase for 2006: "Green is the new red, white, and blue").
Speaking to a gathering of the nation's governors, Obama called our leaders' efforts to reduce America's dependence on oil a "trance of inaction", pointing out: "President Bush's funding for renewable fuels is at the same level it was the day he took office. He refuses to call for even a modest increase in fuel efficiency for cars and trucks." Obama's suggestion: "health care for hybrids," in which the federal government would help pay retiree health costs for auto workers in exchange for the auto industry agreeing to make more fuel efficient cars. That's a terrific idea. Instead of closing factories and laying off workers, Detroit could take a step into the future -- and actually start making money again.
Here's another suggestion: why doesn't the federal government, in an act of leadership, demand that every vehicle purchased by the U.S. government must get over 30 mpg (unless a lower mpg vehicle is required for a specific task)? Boom: guaranteed business for Detroit's newly retooled factories and the chance to start making cars Americans actually want (for the first time since it began publishing, Consumer Reports awarded all of its Top Ten best new car picks to Japanese brands).
For months now, Tom Friedman has been saying that the only solution to breaking our dependence on oil is to raise the gasoline tax -- which in now a miniscule 18 cents a gallon. And a new New York Times/CBS poll this week provided jaw-dropping evidence that Americans would support such a tax increase -- as long as it was used to slow global warming and reduce our oil dependence. This finding goes against the conventional wisdom that even talking about raising taxes is a political death wish. And, as Friedman points out, the public came to this conclusion without a single Democrat or Republican taking the lead on the gas tax issue.
As Andy stern has said on this very site, leadership means going first. In the case of our administration, I would be happy to settle for them going second.