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Warming Up to Warming

Much of the developed world sees the United States as stubbornly uncooperative on global warming. But things are not quite that simple.

The US just submitted a report to the United Nations that starkly acknowledges some of the negative effects warming could have on America, such as an increased likelihood of drought, and flooding in coastal areas. The report forthrightly admits that human activity partly lies behind such effects.

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This could seem an about-face for the Bush administration, which has opted out of an international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, that mandates substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The administration, however, argues that it has never denied that global warming is a serious concern. It has only disagreed on how to address the problem.

The disagreement is considerable. President Bush's climate plan, announced in February, calls for voluntary restraints on greenhouse gases by US industry, employing such incentives as emissions-trading schemes.

This approach has sparked criticism from environmentalists and from European governments who think it's too slow-paced and indefinite. The European Union's 15 members ratified Kyoto May 31.

If the US can own up to the effects of warming, as in its report to the UN, ask critics, why can't it take the next step and agree to clear-cut government curbs on greenhouse gases?

That step could be taken by the US acting alone, if necessary. What's needed is a US policy on global warming that's integrated into the country's long-term energy plans. A firm national commitment to more fuel-efficient vehicles – culminating in pollution-free technology, possibly fuel cells – and cleaner, more dispersed sources of electricity would go a long way toward cooperating with the effort against global warming.

It would also help move the US toward a future energy system that's less vulnerable to terrorist attack and less politically manipulated by a few big players.