WASHINGTON — Not so terribly long ago most everything bad seemed to be blamed on one of three things — the press, the atomic bomb or sunspots. But that changed when someone discovered global warming, aided of course, by computers that spewed out the dire consequences as toxic as the greenhouse gases the true believers saw as the major culprit.
Almost daily new models predicted the end of life sometime in the not too distant future unless something was done quickly. Although many of us, including some first-rate scientists, were highly skeptical, the overwhelming weight on the other side has beaten down most of those who cautioned against panic. It seems to be accepted theory that unless the industrial nations of the world unite to plug the holes in the ozone, we are all going to end up toast.
Despite the growing cries for action from around the world and the environmentalists here, President Bush resisted the economic impact of tightening the limits on gases. It would be bad for business, he said. But the new White House regime has made it abundantly clear that dealing with global warming is a top priority.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in carrying out this shift in policy, recently announced that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions were a danger to public health, setting the stage for regulations that would be a major step in putting the clamps on pollutants from cars to coal-fired power plants. While this is likely to increase the pressure on Congress to do something, a bipartisan coalition from the fossil-fuel states is strongly opposed and clearly stands in the way of mandatory limits and such proposals as cap-and-trade that would limit emissions and permit the trading of pollution allowances.
If Congress should fail to adopt comprehensive legislation setting new limits, the Obama administration would have to try through regulation, based on the EPA's decision.
Is all of this complex enough for you? Well, you ain't heard nothing yet.
The other day Indian government officials announced they were unlikely to accept any binding limits on their emissions, a policy if it continues that would severely damage prospects for effective action against global warming, considering that along with China it is among the leaders in pollution. Why? The answer is simple: A developing country where a huge percentage of the citizens don't even have electricity is in no position to engage in the sophisticated wind and solar projects and other alternatives that are aimed at replacing coal as the main source of energy.
This leaves the United States, should it adopt strict anti-fossil fuel measures and if it accepts world limit mandates as proposed in the un-ratified Kyoto treaty, standing alone while its economic competitors go merrily on their own way. The hue and cry from almost every quarter would be resounding. Only if everyone is on the same page can there be any real accomplishments in preventing further shrinkage of the polar ice cap and the damage caused by unscreened ultraviolet rays. Remember those sunspots?
And then there is the blighted economy. Is this the right time for the young president to take on so much even if, as Barney Google used to say in the comic strips, "Time's a wastin' "? Not only does he have his hands full with one momentous problem after another, opening another front on an issue with huge potential economic ramifications could be more than he or the nation could stand. That doesn't mean he should capitulate, just bide his time, taking small bites of the problem as he proceeds.
Having a majority in Congress and an approval rating that is higher than most of his predecessors after his first 100 days obviously has given him the confidence to propose huge changes from energy to education. But there will come a point where even his majority in Congress will demand that he slow down lest they and he join the media, the atom bomb, sunspots and global warming in the blame lineup.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.