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State must protect our climate now

GLOBAL WARMING -- which is better termed climate change or climate disruption -- is the most critical environmental threat facing the planet. Despite the US government's failure to address the issue, in 2001 the Northeast Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers committed our region to reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- most important, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Under this agreement, Massachusetts must adopt its own climate protection plan, and this plan has been in process for years. It is past time for the state to release a document that meets our regional commitments and does our part in meeting the reduction target set by the international Kyoto Protocol.

The evidence of dramatic climate change continues to mount. One recent study found that Antarctic ice is flowing into the seas much faster than had been expected. A study by NASA showed that Arctic ice is also disappearing rapidly, at a rate of about 9 percent every decade. Without urgent action, average temperatures in the state could rise by 6 to 10 degrees during this century -- making our climate equal to that of Richmond, Va. Predicted effects include:

* A rise of 6 to 38 inches in sea level, leading to flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, erosion, and salt-water contamination of drinking water.

* The destruction of our maple trees, which will be replaced by weed species during the decades that will be needed for warmer-climate trees to take their place.

* Increased asthma and respiratory suffering.

* More disease caused by the spread of ticks and mosquitoes.

The impact of climate change is likely to be severe, yet unpredictable. For example, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute believe that the melting of Arctic ice could disrupt the Gulf Stream, causing a "mini ice age" in Western Europe and the northernmost United States. Other dramatic changes are predicted around the world, including massive flooding and starvation in low-lying nations such as Bangladesh.

Both Worcester and Newton are committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases greatly. We have taken steps toward that goal, such as improving energy efficiency in our municipal and school buildings, purchasing hybrid gas-electric cars (which may get more than 45 miles per gallon) for our municipal fleets, and slashing electricity use in traffic signals by converting them to LEDs.

Newton has been a leader in supporting clean energy options by putting solar collectors on building roofs and buying electricity generated by wind turbines. It is drafting its own climate action plan, as Medford, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville have done.

Worcester has adopted a plan for including sustainable development principles in its local planning practices. Additionally, Worcester's pioneer pay-as-you throw recycling program has significantly reduced the volume of solid waste that must be incinerated or landfilled, thus reducing the release of greenhouse gases and toxins into our air.

We commend some of the actions taken by Governor Romney. These include joining other Northeast governors in planning a cap on emissions from electric generating plants, phasing out SUVs use in the state's fleet, and proposing that the excise tax vary according to fuel efficiency.

Beyond these specific measures, we urge the prompt release of a comprehensive climate action plan. For our state to address climate change, we need a clear roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through explicit commitments in the electricity, transportation, and state government sectors. The state should lead by example, improving efficiency in its own operations, and buying power from wind and solar sources. It should fully implement the existing laws that commit us to cutting air emissions from electricity generation, and to producing a growing share of our electricity from renewable (non-fossil fuel) sources. And it must devise policies to reduce gasoline use, which is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions -- both by encouraging the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles and by slowing the growth in number of miles traveled.

Massachusetts is poised to be a leader in New England and in the nation by issuing and fully implementing a climate action plan. Climate change solutions, such as increased development of renewable energy sources and efficiency, government leadership in green building initiatives, and efficient vehicle fleets, will help stimulate our local economy and increase our independence. The scientific community has come to a consensus that a 75-85 percent reduction in greenhouse gases is necessary. Many states and cities, and most of the world's industrial nations, are already committed to moving in this direction. Massachusetts must act now. David Cohen is the mayor of Newton. Timothy P. Murray is the mayor of Worcester.

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