Global warming

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(HOST) Going to the movies has long been a way to escape reality, but commentator Madeleine Kunin says that after going to the movies this summer, many people are confronting reality – instead of avoiding it.

(KUNIN) My neighbor drives an SUV. The morning after he saw Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” he asked if he could try out my Prius hybrid.

Some committed environmentalists have expressed fears about the consequences of global warming for more than thirty years, but the public and most politicians have largely dismissed the issue.

Has global warming suddenly been transformed from a special interest to a public interest?

It’s tempting to reach that conclusion when Newsweek’s cover reads, “Why Saving the Environment is Suddenly Hot,” when Wal-Mart declares it’s going green, and when crowds line up to see a documentary designed to disturb rather than entertain.

I got the message that global warming was moving from the fringe to the center when I read a small squib in The New York Times on June 8th, headlined “Steelworkers and Sierra Club Unite.”

What’s going on here?

The United Steelworkers, the country’s largest manufacturing union, and the Sierra Club, the largest environmental group, are forming an alliance to promote energy independence and oppose global warming and toxic pollutants.

Their common message is simple: improving the environment need not jeopardize jobs.

This is precisely the message that America – particularly the President – must hear.

Kyoto was nixed because – we were told – it would cost us jobs.

Power plants are not being asked to reduce their emissions because – yes, you guessed it – jobs.

In the film, Gore shows us a graph of the increase in CO2 that spikes straight up beyond anything the earth has known in 650,000 years.

When will this happen? If nothing is done, in the next forty-five years. We’re not talking about the impact of global warming on our grandchildren – or even our children. We are talking about us.

And what will it mean? Inundated cities, flooded coastlines, disappearing glaciers for sure. More droughts and hurricanes like Katrina, very likely.

We have been told to do nothing to curb global warming because it would cost us jobs. Now it’s becoming clear that we must turn that assumption on its head.

Doing nothing to curb global warming will cost us more jobs. Witness the slump in the American automobile industry that was blindsided by Japanese energy-efficient cars.

It’s been long assumed that Americans won’t deal with global warming because it’s too abstract, too long-term. Clean drinking water, yes. Clean air, maybe. But climate change? Why worry?

Worry is exactly what is driving the new coalitions between workers and environmentalists; between Republicans and Democrats; between parents, children and grandparents.

And worry is the fuel that jump-starts change – change in our lifestyles and change in public policy.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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