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Published: Sunday, 12/13/2009

Stakes are high for Ohio, Great Lakes region

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Claudia Roth, leader of Germany's Green Party, and Jakob Norhoj of the Danish Socialist People's Party place a life preserver around a globe near the parliament building in Copenhagen, the city where the climate-change summit is taking place. Representatives of 192 nations are seeking an agreement on how to address global warming. Claudia Roth, leader of Germany's Green Party, and Jakob Norhoj of the Danish Socialist People's Party place a life preserver around a globe near the parliament building in Copenhagen, the city where the climate-change summit is taking place. Representatives of 192 nations are seeking an agreement on how to address global warming.
PETER DEJONG / AP Enlarge

When President Obama visits Copenhagen on Friday, he will make a pitch for reducing greenhouse gases that will - good or bad - affect the future of the Great Lakes region from which he hails.

Ohio, in particular, has much at stake in what comes out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, attended by representatives from 192 countries.

The Buckeye State is No. 2 behind Texas in releases of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Michigan is No. 12.

Ohio, with its large manufacturing base, is the nation's fourth-largest user of electricity. Eighty percent of its power comes from coal-fired power plants, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide.


Both Michigan and Ohio are steeped in the automotive industry which, along with refineries and cement kilns, also rank among the largest sources of carbon dioxide.

The two states are mired in a recession, hungry for jobs. Both are looking at wind, solar, biomass, and other forms of renewable power to recoup at least some of the jobs they've lost.

The Copenhagen summit, called COP15 (for the 15th "session of the parties") ends Friday.

It is being held as the U.S. Senate considers a controversial plan to cap industrial releases of carbon dioxide while allowing companies to trade for emission credits, something akin to the Waxman-Markey bill the House approved last summer.

The White House has said Mr. Obama will "put on the table" a U.S. commitment to cut emissions by 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020, a proposal that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost a family of four about $173 more a year in energy costs.

Mr. Obama's visit, originally scheduled at the start of the Copenhagen summit, has been moved to its final day. Speculation abounds that it will become the event's crescendo, especially if China, India, and other developing countries follow through on their own pledges for emission cutbacks.

But even if the summit ends without a new agreement, many believe Mr. Obama's presence will signal a new era of cooperation on America's part.

"It sends a new message to the world that America is at the table," said Ohio State University's Lonnie Thompson, a recipient of the National Medal of Science in 2007. That award is the highest the U.S. government bestows on American scientists.

"While I am not convinced much will actually come from the meeting, at least now we are at the table and can help mold our collective future," Mr. Thompson said. "That is progress."

Several nations have been calling for an update to the 1997 Kyoto accord that 38 industrialized countries developed in Japan during Bill Clinton's presidency.

Mr. Clinton, sensing a rebuke from a Republican-led Congress, never tried to get the Kyoto agreement ratified. His successor, George W. Bush, renounced it shortly after taking office in 2001.

Now, as the rhetoric ramps up during the summit's final week, the world waits.

And so does the Great Lakes region.

Scientists have not only reached a consensus about climate change, they also point to the Great Lakes as one of North America's most visible regions to find it occurring now, with fall and winter nights getting warmer and the lakes taking longer to freeze.

The Great Lakes region is expected to have more drought-and-flooding cycles, infectious diseases, air pollution, and as much as a five-foot drop in water levels if nothing is done.

The latter could destroy the region's shipping industry and displace certain sportfish that have become the cornerstone of Lake Erie's tourism and recreation industries.

Officials fear a warmer planet will make it harder to grow crops - especially in the Great Lakes region, one of the most productive for food. They have predicted a mass movement of people to higher ground as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, displacing residents along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards.

Those who support a global effort to curb greenhouse gases see it as an investment in the future.

Not all are typical environmentalists: Several religious groups have sounded an alarm, from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu to leaders of 22 Jewish groups.

In Sylvania, the Sisters of St. Francis today will join other religious groups around the world by ringing their bells 350 times, in recognition of the 350 parts per million figure that scientists believe is the upper threshold for carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. It is now about 390 parts per million and is on pace to be 500 parts per million later this century.

"Not only is the Earth suffering, but so are the poor who live in the areas being impacted by climate change," said Sister Sharon Havelak, coordinator of the Sylvania Franciscan Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Network.

Groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute claim there is no crisis. They call climate change a hoax - and those who buy into it a threat to free enterprise.

But while industry lobbyist groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers lobby for delays, the United States Climate Action Partnership said it is eager to move forward.

The latter's membership includes the Detroit 3 automakers, BP, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Shell, General Electric, Honeywell, Alcoa, ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Exelon, Florida Power & Light, Johnson & Johnson, and PepsiCo - several of the largest companies that would be most directly affected.

The partnership recently issued a report predicting the U.S. economy would grow 70 to 71 percent by 2030, even with climate legislation similar to what the House approved. Do nothing and the growth rate will only be another 1 to 2 percent, it said.

The Ohio Business Council for a Clean Economy - a network of businesses and business leaders - has told U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) that it sees potential job growth for Ohio under proposed cap-and-trade legislation because that would solidify markets for renewable energy.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) has said climate legislation could devastate Ohio's agriculture, manufacturing, and small business sectors.

But nine Democratic senators - including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan - have sent Mr. Obama a letter outlining 10 principles "to ensure climate policy is environmentally sound, affordable, and fair."

Those principles include a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050, with industrialized nations reducing emissions by 80 percent or more by then.

On Oct. 22, the Pew Research Center said that fewer Americans today believe the Earth's climate is getting warmer than those who did in the spring of 2008, based on the group's polling data.

The polling also showed fewer Americans see climate change as a dire issue, even though many U.S. military officials claim climate change could affect national security if nothing is done to control it.

"Debates will continue," Lisa Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said. "But the overwhelming scientific evidence shows the threat is real."

Many of the nation's leading scientists remain frustrated by the public's inability or unwillingness to grasp the issue. According to Ms. Jackson, naysayers help keep America addicted to foreign oil.

To OSU's Jason Box, it's not a matter of who believes what.

Climate change cannot be settled by popular vote. It all comes down to the science behind it - and, he said, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's most prestigious group of climatologists, has resoundingly stated in four reports that man is contributing greatly to climate change.

"To some significant degree, the scientists have done their job," according to Mr. Box, who has traveled to Greenland annually since 1994 to document changes in its glaciers.

"It's up to the policy folks now to find a way to develop economies in a way that spares the world the sorry fate of ignoring the problem," he said.

Mr. Box and Mr. Thompson are colleagues at OSU's Byrd Polar Research Center, one of the nation's first research facilities dedicated to gathering data from the North and South Poles.

Mr. Thompson and his wife, Ellen Mosley Thompson, have pulled samples from some of the world's most remote glaciers for centuries of information about climate variation.

They co-founded the center's famed Ice Core Paleoclimatology section 33 years ago. Both have been elected by their peers to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, the federal government's chief advisory group on science and technology issues since 1863. Both served as consultants to former Vice President Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth.

"We live on a planet where global climate change is occurring and already impacting many people and unfortunately nature is the time keeper of this process and none of us can see the clock," Mr. Thompson said.

The University of Michigan said it has sent three of its professors - Richard Rood, Henry Pollack, and Paul Edwards - to Copenhagen, along with nine students.

Mr. Rood, a professor in UM's department of atmospheric, oceanic, and space sciences, said climate change is not about business, science, energy, or population. It is a convergence of those and other issues.

Any decisions reached on addressing climate change, either at the global level in Copenhagen or at the national level in Congress, will affect other academic disciplines in the future, such as engineering.

"You have to search for a way to rationalize the interface of all of these things," Mr. Rood said. "I want [the students] to see how messy it is to solve these problems."

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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