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"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"


Views on warming hard to thaw
Seattle Post
By JOEL CONNELLY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST
August 22, 2005

Leaving what Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton describes as the "evidence-free zone" of Washington, D.C., Clinton and three GOP colleagues flew across Alaska last week to see for themselves what climate change is doing to the Arctic.

Clinton, D-N.Y., came back with a blunt conclusion: People in the northern tier of the lower 48 should start losing their cool over global warming.

Polar ice is retreating, glaciers are receding, the permafrost is melting and bugs are causing, in Clinton's words, "devastation as far as the eyes can see" to forests.

"The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet ... It is obvious to your own eyes that these changes are occurring.

"The changes are signs of things coming elsewhere in the globe," Clinton said in a telephone interview from Anchorage.

Surprised? In our city, a gateway to Alaska, we shouldn't be.

As he studies seabirds on Cooper Island north of Barrow, Alaska, Seattle-based researcher George Divoky has in 30 years recorded rapid thinning of the ice pack and melting of permafrost.

In 4,000 miles of travel across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- working on his book "Seasons of Life and Land" -- former Boeing worker Subhankar Banerjee photographed movement of plants northward from interior Alaska to the tundra.

But refusal to recognize global warming or evidence of man's role has become, in circles of the oil industry and the political right, a 21st century equivalent of Holocaust denial.

Climate change is, Clinton acidly observed, "something that doesn't fit their ideology or commercial interests."

Last year, the Arctic Climate Impact Study, an international report by 300 scientists, warned that "human influences ... have now become the dominant factor" in global warming.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, sneered at the "so-called study," although scientists from his own state helped prepare it.

Interviewed last week by KTUU-Channel 2 news in Anchorage, Young dismissed proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions. He lampooned measures taken to limit the hole in Earth's ozone layer.

"But to have people come down and talk about we gotta do this, we gotta change that, we don't use Freon anymore, you don't use underarm deodorant, you can't do these kinds of things -- you know, that is pure nonsense," opined Alaska's congressman-for-life.

Neither Young nor Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, accompanied the bipartisan Senate delegation on its tour of their state last week.

They might have learned a thing or two.

"Go up to the places like we just came from. It's a little scary," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who organized the visit, told reporters in Alaska.

Although possible presidential rivals in 2008, McCain and Clinton were united in the view that action must be taken to limit the human causes of global warming.

"It helps even someone like me who is convinced by the science to get a human face on the problem," Clinton said.

Villagers in Barrow, America's northernmost community, provided the human face. They told senators that the winter ice pack, which used to start forming in September, does not form until late November. Historically, the ice pack has buffered coastal villages from the full impact of winter storms.

"We heard a lot about the loss of sea ice, that it allows more space for waves to build up," Clinton said.

Estimates range into the hundreds of millions of dollars to relocate villages suffering coastal erosion.

Flying over the Yukon, the senators saw what has happened to forests infested by the spruce bark beetle. Bitter winters formerly held the beetle in check.

No more. "We saw devastation as far as the eye can see," Clinton said. "There is no doubt in anyone's mind that this is related to warming."

Clinton and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, predicted that the nation soon will feel a ripple effect. Collins likened what she saw to a canary slowly stricken by gases in a mine shaft, telling reporters in Alaska that warming in the Arctic "is crying out to us to pay attention to the impact."

"As a senator from New York, I worry about climate change for my state," Clinton said. She ticked off likely effects: rising sea levels, intensified storm impacts, erosion of beaches, inundation of wetlands and disease impacts on farms and forests.

Can minds be changed?

McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., have drawn about 40 Senate votes for a measure that would cap America's greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 at the 2000 level.

As close allies of the oil industry, Alaska's Sens. Stevens and Murkowski have opposed limits on carbon dioxide.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a swing vote on global warming, was along on last week's Alaska trip.

The Bush administration is also in denial. A White House aide -- since departed for the petroleum industry -- repeatedly censored and softened references to global warming in reports by the president's Council on Environmental Quality.

By contrast, 164 cities signed onto a Seattle-initiated effort for urban centers to act on their own to curb greenhouse gases.

Alluding to the acrid political climate of Washington, D.C., Clinton opined that action in the United States is going to have to come from the "bottom up."

She has just seen what is going to happen to the Earth from the top down.
P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or joelconnelly@seattlepi.com.

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