Originally Published: November 20, 2007 9:23 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner predicted Tuesday that this country will have a plan to battle climate change in less than five years.
After getting a standing ovation for her half-hour talk at the Prescott Public Library that focused on climate change, Browner took questions from the audience for another hour.
She urged the packed crowd to get involved in the climate change issue, which she called "the most pressing environmental, public health and moral issue" today. Browner said she has been involved in the issue for two decades. She was the longest-running EPA chief, under Bill Clinton.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali Dec. 3-14 will feature "the most important global discussions we've ever had on the environment," Browner said.
The International Panel on Climate Change's fourth report that came out Saturday says it could even be too late to stop some climate change, she noted.
"Global warming is real," Browner said. "It is caused by gasses that we, humans, are putting into the air."
Hundreds of scientists involved in the report say it is "unequivocal" that the planet is getting warmer, according to the report's summary at www.ipcc.ch. Eleven of the last 12 years rank among the 12 warmest years of global surface temperatures since 1850. Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures are likely the highest in 1,300 years.
Global carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere are higher than the last 650,000 years, based on ice core measurements.
Because of these greenhouse gas increases, the report predicts more droughts, more hurricanes, rising sea levels and the spread of diseases, she said. In the Southwest, people will see an even drier climate with water shortages and more wildfires.
"We're talking about realities in our lifetimes," including the lifetimes of the middle-aged people in the audience, Browner said.
Scientists are starting to understand how the "feedback loop" is making global warming even worse, Browner said. Young forests absorb carbon, but Hurricane Katrina alone killed off 350 million trees and wildfires kill millions more. Scientists expect these extreme weather events to increase.
But people can take actions to reduce the impacts, she said.
"It will require a whole set of laws, and that's never easy in our country," Browner said.
A cap-and-trade program is the most likely program that Congress and the next president will agree upon, Browner said. A Senate committee will vote on such a program as soon as early December.
Such a program could reduce 1990 greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050, she said, by assigning carbon credits to various industries. The greener companies could sell the credits to the worst polluters such as coal-fired power plants at a price that the market will determine.
The political momentum already exists for a national climate change program, Browner said. All the presidential candidates support it. Twenty-eight states including Arizona have adopted climate action plans, and 17 of them, including Arizona, have set target dates. She counted 691 cities that have signed onto the Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement.
Even Fortune 100 companies are asking for nationwide regulations so they do not have to deal with a different program in every state, she said. They have joined environmental groups on the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.
History shows that environmental protection laws do not cost as much as people think they will, she said. And history shows that industry will come up with the new technology to meet new standards. She offered several specific examples.
A few weeks ago, 6,000 young people converged on Washington, D.C. to demand climate change action, Browner said. Their motto was "one sky, one climate, one future, one chance."
She urged the audience not to be the first generation to leave an unsolvable problem for the next generation.