Beginning To See the Light 

The power crisis and its global warning

Wednesday, May 23 2001

Page 2 of 3

With all this death and disaster looming on the horizon, it is easy to ask the question: Isn’t our government doing something about it? With George the Second in the Oval Office, the answer is a resounding no. On the contrary, like an impatient child at the thermostat, he seems eager to hurry up the warming process. Even if it was insufficient, the Kyoto Protocol was trying to do the right thing — get this greenhouse-effect thang under control. Now that the president has refused to honor the Kyoto treaty outright because he is “worried about the economy” (over 100 countries signed the treaty), you have to wonder who is going to do something about this mess.

How about YOU, for starters? (If it helps, imagine an Uncle Sam–style Earth jabbing a finger at you.) That’s right. Did you think you — still cruising this whole time — had been forgotten? Uh-uh. Because with oil men in the White House, you may be one of the best chances we’ve got.

In the summer of ’99, California’s energy situation was similar. Demand was sky-high, and the utilities were buying off the spot market. One major difference between then and now is that California was bailed out by hydroelectric power from Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Now the Pacific Northwest is in drought. Recently Seattle has received less rainfall than California. Dry winters aren’t unheard-of, but usually mountain icecaps act as a buffer as the runoff fills the rivers and reservoirs. This year, the snow pack on the Sierra Nevadas is 60 percent of normal. A spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. calls it “a blow from Mother Nature.”

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In reality, it is a blow against Mother Nature. The same greenhouse heat cooking up the Pacific Northwest’s mountains is melting 75 percent of the icecap of Kilimanjaro and could, in another 70 years, completely eliminate the “glacier” in Montana’s Glacier National Park. No ice equals no water. No water equals no power. As far as hydropower goes, global warming is one major factor in the ä California energy crisis.

Ironically, George and Dick seem eager to point to California as a reason to give up on cutting carbon emissions. “Without a clear, coherent energy strategy, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or worse,” the V.P. said in April. That “strategy” means building dozens of carbon-belching coal plants and drilling for oil in protected areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Cheney rejected both the idea that conservation could be part of an energy policy and the notion that we should “do more with less” as being dated ideologies. On that point, he seems to be thinking like most Americans. Gas mileage hasn’t been so high in the United States since 1980. SUVs, as you know, are more popular than ever. Though we account for only 4 percent of the global population, the U.S. churns out 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

According to a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, if the average U.S. automobile got 35 miles per gallon — instead of the current average of 24 mpg — we would consume 1.5 million less barrels of oil a day. That’s almost three times the 580,000 barrels expected from drilling in the Alaskan refuge.


Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop pumping so much carbon into the air.

(Mission Impossible isn’t a bad analogy to fighting the greenhouse problem; getting over our culture’s addiction to fossil fuels will be a bigger headache than kicking cigarettes. Perhaps that’s why so many people pretend that global warming, like addiction, doesn’t exist.)


First: Scrap the Caddy. The Escalade gets a U.S. EPA–estimated 16 miles per gallon. Maybe you can afford today’s gas prices. So what? The thing is still vulgar. The currently available Honda Insight, on the other hand, one of the several first-generation hybrid cars featuring both an electric and a gas engine, gets an EPA-estimated 68 highway miles per gallon. One gallon of gas weighs only 6 pounds, but when it is burned in a car engine, it combines with oxygen to create 20 pounds of CO2. In the long run, that means that for every 10 miles per gallon more efficient your car is, you keep 2,500 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually. Think about it. By switching from Escalade (or most other SUVs) to Insight, you would keep over 12,500 pounds of CO2 from heating up the greenhouse each year.

Next: Turn off the a/c.

Then: Turn off the lights. (Your standard 60-watt bulb puts 3.3 pounds of CO2 into the air per day.) Go outside or open a window. If you must use lights, use fluorescents or other Green bulbs.

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