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Making Warming Hot

October 8, 1997



Belatedly, the Clinton administration tried this week to crank up its campaign for public awareness of global warming.

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Alas, that effort was swamped by news from the White House's even more belated release of videotapes of Clinton fund-raising soirees. Too bad. That means the 167 nations meeting in Kyoto in December to pin down targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will remain severely split.

Developing lands ask some exemption because they come late to the multiplication of cars, factories, central heat and cooling. Richer lands quarrel: The EU wants a rollback to 15 percent below 1990 emission levels. Japan proposes 5 percent. The US is still wrestling over what to do.

For the past nine years we have maintained a close watch on global warming research. Several conclusions are now clear:

* There is, of course, a greenhouse effect. Without atmospheric trapping of the sun's radiation, Earth would be as cold and lifeless as Mars.

* In past ages when greenhouse gases rose, the climate warmed.

* During the modern industrial age, carbon dioxide has risen sharply because coal and oil powered the age. Global temperatures have begun to rise, slightly but measurably.

* Despite the current US industry and labor union campaign against emission reductions, major auto, energy, industrial equipment, and insurance firms are engaged in research on technologies to reduce fossil fuel use, extend car mileage, and make alternative power less costly.

It remains our feeling that all nations will have to accept targets for gradual reduction of greenhouse gases. Promising research efforts on new energy-saving, pollution-swallowing technologies should spread rapidly to the developing world.

Credits for firms successfully cutting emissions ought to become a salable commodity. Consumers can be wooed with tax credits for replacing inefficient household equipment.

But above all, the US public needs to take the effort seriously. That means Mr. Clinton, as Great Communicator II, must do a better job of persuasion than he has so far.