Editorial: Time to plan for global warmingGlobal warming has become a drumbeat in the media: California's cooking — and burning; so are the U.S. and Europe. Droughts seem longer and drier; hurricanes are more frequent and fiercer. 2005 was the hottest year on record; so far, 2006 is hotter.
But an 11-day heat wave in the Bay Area? Eleven whole days without our summer fog to make us comfortable.
If not proof that global warming is real, that heat wave has given us a preview of what global warming will feel like. It has also gotten our attention.
Maybe feeling drippy and uncomfortable will help spur us to take the actions needed to head off the far worse consequences that are predicted as global temperatures rise, glaciers and ice caps melt, oceans warm and sea levels rise.
In this environmentally conscious area, lots of people and organizations are doing their bit. Many are putting solar cells on roofs, driving Priuses, recycling, switching to fluorescent lights, becoming carbon-neutral and building green. San Mateo County has committed to a policy that all its new government buildings will be green; Portola Valley's new Town Hall will be green.
But although they are essential, grass-roots measures are not enough. To slow or reverse the global trend, we need organized efforts at all levels of government: cities, counties, states, nations, the United Nations.
As we all know, these efforts are uneven. California and many local communities are doing far more than the country as a whole. The U.S. and Australia are the only developed countries that have refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It has been ratified by 164 nations.
What's needed is a sense of urgency to get the machinery of local governments in motion.
For communities, like ours, that front on bays or oceans, rising sea levels present the most immediate, scariest threat from global warming.
Depending on how fast ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica melt, sea levels could rise up to 20 feet or more — maybe in this century.
Anyone who is still skeptical about the threat should see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"; read the book; or — better yet — listen to Al Gore himself. Mr. Gore does a powerful and persuasive job of presenting the overwhelming scientific evidence for global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects. In several presentations on the Peninsula, he has received standing ovations from some of the most sophisticated audiences in the world.
His pictures and descriptions of the diminishing ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica leave little doubt that that ice is rapidly — no one knows how rapidly — being added to oceans. The rise could force the evacuation of more than 100 million people in China, India and Bangladesh, it demonstrated.
Such a rise in sea level could drown all of East Palo Alto, and substantial areas of Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto and Redwood City, not to mention San Francisco and cities all around the Bay.
It's high time that these cities begin to incorporate these threats into their disaster planning.
They may also want to begin rethinking their approach to new developments proposed along the shore. In Redwood City, for example, Cargill is winding down salt production on 1,433 acres just northwest of Bayfront Park in Menlo Park. It is planning to replace those acres with some kind of development. It has sent more than 30,000 letters to residents of Redwood City asking them what they would like to see on the property.
Should any developer be allowed to build something that might wash away within decades? That question needs to be addressed.
Similarly, plans to restore marsh and wetlands in former salt ponds around the Bay might be useless if water levels rise.
Fortunately the regional Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which oversees development around the Bay, is conscious of these threats. It is seeking funding for a new round of studies to examine these issues in depth.
We applaud this study. We also urge all our cities to address the issues presented by global warming, particularly those that have real estate at risk.
Meanwhile, we need to raise awareness and a sense of urgency to combat these fearsome problems.
In one small but significant gesture, 47 California cities have individually ratified the Kyoto treaty on climate change. They include Palo Alto, San Mateo, San Bruno, Sunnyvale, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose.
Maybe our cities should join them.