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In Our View: Problem is Here

Monday, July 18, 2005
Columbian editorial writers

Ominous changes in the natural rhythm of the Earth are showing up all around us, and signs point to global warming as the culprit.

Those signs aren't just in the Arctic inhabited largely by polar bears affected by melting ice or other remote locations, but here at home.

Global warming is a deadly byproduct in part of our industrial society. Emissions of cars and plants that burn fossil fuels create "greenhouse gases" that capture and hold heat in our atmosphere. ABC's "Nightline" featured global warming last Thursday night in a televised program titled "Extinction."

Host Ted Koppel said the program would not argue whether there is such a problem, but discuss its effects. Scientific studies all over the globe have confirmed warming temperatures and their devastation on plants and animals.

One scientist predicted half the world's species of plants and animals will be wiped out by the end of this century. Another said "15 to 30 percent" of the species "are committed to extinction."

Seattle's Lake Washington, a clean-water success story four decades ago when voters approved systems that kept raw sewage and wastewater out of the lake, faces a new threat.

An in-depth report by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week found warmer water affecting fish, and creating foul algae in the lake. Scientific studies indicate the temperature in the lake's top 30-foot layer has risen by more than 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit between late spring and fall compared with 40 years ago. The lake's overall temperature is up by one degree. While that's only one degree, "it has huge effects," said one University of Washington researcher.

Sockeye salmon headed for Lake Washington diminished from 298,000 in 2000 to 30,195 this year through July 7 because, as the newspaper put it, "they are swimming an ever-more tropical gauntlet" from Ballard Locks to the lake. Scientists concluded global warming is the chief cause.

On the coastline, there has been concern over the record number of dead seabirds washing up on beaches from northern California to British Columbia. Ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees above normal, according to an Associated Press story. Marine biologists reported there was no "upwelling," in which cold, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface.

Elsewhere, the Audubon Society worries about the diminished number of red finches. And in Vancouver Lake, warming weather, usually in late July or August, has turned waters a slimy, putrid green the past couple of summers.

While global warming may not be the villain in all ecosystem changes, mounting evidence suggests it affects most. Yet the Bush Administration refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty aimed an coordinating efforts to attack the problem. Mayors of 170 U.S. cities have pledged to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by developing wind and solar energy sources and efficient motor vehicles to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a time to act, not deny, a serious problem that affects our planet our home.