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The Poor State of the Nations Climate

President George W. Bush will deliver his final State of the Union address on Monday. We can be sure he will talk about Iraq and the economy, particularly the hot topic of the moment: recession. He probably will discuss Iran and the war on terrorism. He may talk about immigration and rising oil prices, two topics he raised last year and on which there has been no progress.

But will he talk about global climate change?

On the eve of the address and in no uncertain terms, a group of the nation’s leading scientists and policy experts is advising the President that he should.

“We regret to report that the state of the nation’s climate policy is poor, and the climate and the ecosystems that depend upon it are showing increasing signs of disruption,” the group says in a statement being delivered to the White House today. We can no longer discuss the State of the Union without assessing the state of the nation’s climate.

Among the diverse signatories are two Nobel Laureates; nearly 30 mayors of U.S. cities; climate experts from 15 academic institutions including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Duke Universities; and leaders of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Federation of American Scientists, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences. Individuals from several foundations, think tanks, and businesses also signed.

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The seven-page statement makes clear that global warming deserves much more attention in the State of the Union address than the President gave it last year, when he sent the policy world atwitter with six words — “serious challenge of global climate change”. As it turns out, those words were the high point of the Administration’s climate action agenda last year. The low point came in Bali.Compared to the other issues the president is likely to discuss, none approaches global warming in scale, duration or significance. Recession may be dominating the attention of the White House, the candidates and Congress. But as TIME columnist Justin Fox noted this week, the recession is “just a passing phenomenon.”

“Keep that in mind when listening to those presidential candidates talk economics,” Fox wrote, “By the time one of them takes office a year from now, this year’s slump will probably be history. It’s the other stuff that he or she might actually be able to do something about.”

Among the themes in the “State of the Climate” paper are that climate change is not a distant problem and it is not simply an environmental issue.

“The early signs of climate change are appearing much more quickly than predicted,” the statement says. “These signs are not restricted to the Arctic and Antarctic. We are seeing troubling patterns emerging in the United States that are consistent with the predicted impacts of climate change.” Among them are changing precipitation patterns, Atlantic hurricane activity, the frequency and size of wildfires, diminishing snow pack, changing migratory patterns, and damage from insects, including the death of pine forests.

“Some suffering is inevitable and we must help those least able to cope,” the statement says. “But the more quickly we reduce emissions today and prepare for the consequences of emissions from the past, the less suffering there will be. Those are the realities that we must acknowledge and act upon now.”

Among the statement’s many other points are these:

• The transformation to a clean global economy will open “paths of possibility to all Americans, including those the old economy left behind.

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The federal Climate Change Science Program should be fully funded and should produce more information about the local, social and economic impacts of climate change so that communities can prepare.

• In order to have constructive engagement with the international community, the United States needs concrete action at home.

The statement, produced by the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), is open for signature by all who wish to endorse it. It is more than a prompt for the President’s address on Monday; it’s also a document that, with sufficient support, can send yet another signal to the candidates that this election should be a breakthrough not only for race and gender, but for long-overdue White House leadership on energy security and climate action. The complete document and a signature tool are posted on PCAP’s web site: www.climateactionproject.com.

— Bill B.