Local politicians urge less hot air 

Though it may sound a touch hypocritical for local politicians to urge national politicians to cut back on the hot air, that’s what was done earlier this week in the interest of saving the planet.

On Tuesday, Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas joined mayors and other locally elected officials from around the country in a campaign calling on Congress and the Clinton Administration to work harder at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The bipartisan effort, Cities for Climate Protection, points to the potentially crippling costs to municipalities from increasingly severe weather, which many scientists attribute to a long-term warming trend brought on by global pollution. The campaign notes that 10 of the warmest years on record have all occurred since 1980, with 1998 marking the hottest year ever.

Almost immediately, President Bill Clinton took advantage of the announcement by calling on Republican lawmakers to support his proposed budget package, which funds grants to municipalities for reducing greenhouse gases and promotes clean energy technologies.

How much of this campaign is genuine and how much is rhetoric is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, local municipalities often bear the brunt of the economic costs of natural disasters, even when federal disaster funds are available.

And the issue of global warming “is not even on the radar screen” for most state agencies, says Bill Thomas with Montana’s Disaster and Emergency Services. But he adds, “Plenty of us are definitely concerned about the issue.”

Thomas notes that his department has never tried to quantify the economic cost to the state of global warming, nor has it documented the rise in natural disasters that may have occurred due to flooding, crop disruptions, or other global warming effects. Nor does the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) monitor the state’s output of carbon dioxide and methane, the two gases cited as the primary culprits in global warming, says Paul Cartwright, senior energy analyst for the DEQ.

Cartwright has been involved in drafting a Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for Montana, due to be released by Oct. 28. The plan, which Cartwright calls “a focused laundry list” of efforts that can help reduce global warming at the state level, includes such advice as promoting more energy-efficient cars, homes and businesses, encouraging the use of non-fossil fuels, and designing cities that require less motorized traffic.

Cartwright admits that some suggestions are longer-term in scope, and the effects likely will not be measurable for years to come. Still, in a state that already experiences such extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as a short growing season, he says we have much to gain by reversing current trends.

“It’s somewhere between scary and fascinating, depending upon how you look at it,” Cartwright says.

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