A win in the war on warming


A few weeks back when I wrote about a "last-chance tourism" trip to see Glacier National Park's dying glaciers, a bunch of you took me to task.

Don't be so fatalistic.

In a column about how the famed glaciers may be melted away and gone in eight years, I wrote this sentence, which irritated the more hopeful of you out there:

"For Glacier, it's probably too late to do anything but go see it. Rangers at the park said any change in the trend -- even if society was pushing for one, which it isn't -- likely would come too late for these glaciers.

"Their end is baked in."

"Don't tell us the end is baked in," came a typical response. "That's shrugging and saying the problem's too big. Shrugging is why we're in this situation."

Another upbraided me for driving all the way to the Montana park, thereby releasing a half-ton of carbon dioxide to go see glaciers that are in danger partly due to too much carbon dioxide.

"You give us shortsighted self-indulgence, but no solutions," she said. "What can be done? Go deeper!"

First of all, the researchers who study the park told me these glaciers are cooked. The warming today is due in part to fossil fuels burned years ago.

So in their view, it's already too late for the glaciers at Glacier.

But on the other point, I plead guilty. I don't see it as my job to propose huge policy solutions. That's what national leaders are supposed to be for. (Remember them?)

So on that front, there is some news. The best news I've heard out of the Obama administration in a long time.

This week it was announced that Obama struck a deal with the auto industry to nearly double the fuel efficiency of U.S. cars and trucks by 2025, to an average of 54.5 mpg across the entire fleet.

Currently the average is 28 mpg.

The average is supposed to rise to 34.5 mpg by 2016.

What's so notable about this is not only that it's the most ambitious move the government has ever taken to try to cut greenhouse gases.

It's that after years of fighting, the automakers agreed to it. Tuesday they were quoted saying the new standards are crucial for the country and that they have "accepted the challenge" of trying to achieve such huge gains.

The Toyota Matrix I drove to Glacier gets about 30 mpg. A few years ago that was considered pretty green. But in five years, it will be considered a gas guzzler.

So that's impressive progress, right?

Except you probably won't hear much mention of this down at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Except maybe if they bash it.

The GOP's presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has promised to overturn the car fuel-efficiency standards if he's elected. Including even the lower 34.5 mpg one. Too much government interference in private industry, he says.

How he could continue to hold that view -- now that the carmakers themselves have "accepted the challenge" -- is beyond me.

But then I was floored in disbelief when I covered the 2008 GOP convention, and the entire 18,000-strong hall started chanting "drill, baby, drill."

As if it were a gathering of the Petroleum Association, not a national political party.

And that year the GOP platform was far greener, and less oil-drenched, than it is today.

So, yes, we're making some progress. But it's progress that's at risk.

Danny Westneat's email is dwestneat@seattletimes.com


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