Heat is on Congress


The first nine months of 2012 were the warm­est on record for the United States as a whole. Toledo’s first nine months were its warm­est in 58 years. They were the warm­est in 74 years in Cleve­land, in 65 years in Co­lum­bus and Cin­cin­nati, and in 54 years in Detroit.

An­ec­dotal or not, these and other records as­sem­bled by the Na­tional Cli­matic Data Center add to the over­whelm­ing body of ev­i­dence that Earth’s cli­mate is warm­ing. Some of the change is nat­u­ral; some is man-made. Plenty of symp­toms — from last week’s su­per-storm Sandy to record Arc­tic ice melts to Amer­ica’s worst drought in a half-cen­tury — sug­gest the need for a global re­sponse.

Four years ago, Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee John McCain de­clared cli­mate change a ma­jor con­cern of his cam­paign. This year, mem­bers of his party mock any pre­tense of mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion of the is­sue.

Still, the next Con­gress needs to act. The pref­er­a­ble course is cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion that would al­low in­dus­tries to bar­ter among them­selves for emis­sions cred­its, and thus main­tain flex­i­bil­ity in re­spond­ing to anti-pol­lu­tion man­dates.

Con­tin­ued in­dif­fer­ence to the is­sue of cli­mate change is a pre­scrip­tion for fail­ure. More than 100 sci­en­tists and pub­lic of­fi­cials im­plored Pres­i­dent Obama and GOP nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney to ad­dress the threat of ris­ing sea lev­els dur­ing their fi­nal de­bate last month, but the is­sue did not arise.

Res­i­dents of the Great Lakes re­gion may feel in­su­lated from any need to re­in­force South Flor­ida and Lou­i­si­ana coast­lines be­cause of higher sea lev­els. Yet the bil­lions of dol­lars it would cost to do this would af­fect all tax­pay­ers.

Mr. Obama ap­peared ready to make ma­jor in­roads on cli­mate change dur­ing his first two years in of­fice. Yet he has said too lit­tle about the mat­ter since the Re­pub­li­can victory in the 2010 elec­tion.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has made up­dates to some pol­lu­tion con­trols, re­quir­ing util­i­ties to look to op­tions other than their most an­ti­quated coal-fired power plants. Much of the slack has been picked up by plants fu­eled by nat­u­ral gas — an im­prove­ment, yet still a fos­sil fuel with en­vi­ron­men­tal bag­gage.

Both na­tional se­cu­rity and price sta­bil­ity will re­quire the coun­try to de­velop a broader en­ergy mix, in­clud­ing greater re­li­ance on re­new­able sources. That in, turn, will re­quire the next Con­gress to get se­ri­ous about cli­mate change.