A sobering assessment of our planet’s future

Even after some last-minute “editing” by bureaucrats, the latest report from the world’s leading scientific panel on climate change cries out for urgency.

This is not the work of alarmists; officials from more than 120 countries, including the United States, endorsed it. A remarkable, and quite sobering, consensus is clear: the global warming crisis is real, human activity is making it worse, and nations must act now to reduce its impacts.

The report confirms that greenhouse gases already trapped in the atmosphere will continue to warm the planet, creating changes to ecosystems that could be catastrophic in parts of the world. Seas will rise, droughts will ruin, disease will ravage.

Where changes are less deadly, they’ll still be ominous.

Take our region. Warmer temperatures in the Northwest will mean less mountain snowpack, creating water-management problems that will hinder salmon, agriculture and hydropower generation. In lowlands, like the Snohomish River Valley, flooding could be more frequent and severe. In drier areas, wildfires may become more prolific.

Just a few degrees makes a huge difference in the potential damage, according to the report. Hence the urgent need to cut current emissions.

With so much at stake in the Northwest, some important regional initiatives are underway:

* Washington and Oregon have joined California in planning stricter auto emission standards, an effort that got a boost last week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles. Standards should be strict, and apply nationally.

* In February, the governors of Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and New Mexico announced the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative. They’ll develop a regional target for greenhouse-gas reductions, then develop a market-based program to reach it.

* Snohomish County farmers have had wild early success in growing canola, a plant used to produce clean-burning biodiesel.

* The Snohomish County PUD last month adopted a policy and strategies that balance the electricity needs of our growing area with environmental responsibility. The PUD will advocate incentives for clean, innovative technologies, and continue to aggressively explore new sources of clean power. Its leading role in testing the viability of tidal power in Puget Sound is testimony to that commitment.

Global consensus on global warming has emerged. Momentum toward global solutions is building. The United States, as a leading economic power and greenhouse-gas emitter, must become a global leader in that life-and-death cause – while there’s still time to make a difference.

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