In December, the world's leaders will meet in Japan to see if they can work out a binding agreement to limit emissions of global-warming gases.
Leaders of the fossil fuel and automotive industries, as well as those tying their future to an expanding stock market, have urged no action because profits and jobs are based on swift exploitation of fossil fuels.
Those who urge immediate and vigorous action include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2,700 of our nation's top scientists, 2,500 economists, public health officials, supporters of the environmental movement and the Coalition of Small Island States.
Only a tiny fraction of scientists support no action. But the media, in trying to appear objective, gives as much coverage to this tiny minority as it does to the overwhelming majority of knowledgeable scientists.
Most citizens are so puzzled that they do nothing and thus contribute to a policy of doing nothing. Political leaders who must win office feel this strong pressure to do nothing.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore recently announced a policy they intend to follow in Kyoto in which the United States would commit to limit greenhouse gases to 1990 levels no later than 2012.
They advocated tax cuts and research spending to encourage industry to save energy and switch to cleaner fuels. They also would trade emissions in world markets, deregulate the electric industry and improve energy efficiency of U.S. government installations.
That policy was attacked by both sides. Such a middle position may be good short-term politics, but it could be disastrous long-term politics if humans seriously disrupt Earth's natural systems. Everything is connected to everything else in nature -- hence we should keep in mind that we can never do merely one thing.
What policy should we pursue when our actions now could seriously impact the ability of our children and grandchildren?
I believe we should take the no-regrets option and begin immediately to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The no-action option holds out the hope of short-term wealth, but that posture is not sustainable and is likely to lead to serious ecosystem disruption.
Americans play a crucial role. We have only 4 percent of the world's population, but we emit more than 20 percent of greenhouse gases. With our industrial and military power, we can only lead. If we take no action, the world will take no action. If we lead toward serious limitations on greenhouse gases, the world will follow. We must act now.
Lester MilBrath Williamsville