THE nation's 50 governors are trying to rouse the United States to greater action on global climate change - a coming event they say ``may be among the greatest threats humanity has ever faced.'' Pollutants pouring into the air could boost average worldwide temperatures as much as 3 to 10 degrees F. during the next century, with untold results, according to some scientific studies.
Before Tuesday's conclusion of the 82nd annual conference of the National Governors' Association, the chief executives approved a seven-point plan to guide US policy on climate change during the 1990s. They are urging greater international cooperation, expansion of forests, a halt to the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and stepped-up research.
``Global climate change poses a wide-ranging threat to the entire world,'' warns Gov. James Thompson (R) of Illinois. ``We must take reasonable steps now to reduce this threat.''
But the governors were cautioned by experts that the US cannot do the job alone. This country contains only 4 percent of the world's population. In the next few decades, the environment likely will face far higher levels of pollution flowing from developing countries with rapidly expanding populations.
Barber Conable Jr., president of the World Bank, made it clear that the US must pay particular attention to the third world. Just to the south, for example, he notes that a ``gray cloud [of pollution] which hangs over Mexico City contains an estimated 5 million tons of ozone, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, [and] heavy particles.''
Mr. Conable also observed the high levels of pollution in Eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, the Vistula River is so contaminated that three-quarters of it is unsuited even for industrial use.
Gov. Madeleine Kunin (D) of Vermont, vice chair of the governors' task force on global climate change, notes that industry and banking will be key players in reducing pollution.
Business, for example, can promote energy efficiency, which can be both reduce costs and benefit the planet - a ``win-win'' situation, she says.
Banks can take greater care to finance only projects that provide sustained economic growth, rather than prosperity that pillages the environment. The World Bank already has moved in that direction. It has tripled the amount going to forestry, including funds to plant 3 billion trees in China, where many forests were destroyed 2,000 years ago.
The report approved by the governors includes these goals:
1. Develop an international agreement to protect the atmosphere. Otherwise, gains made in the US could be offset elsewhere.
2. Use cost-effective measures to increase efficiency and stabilize US emissions of carbon dioxide. Better insulated homes and high-mileage autos are examples.
3. Stop production of, and recycle, CFCs, and use cost-effective measures to reduce greenhouse gases such as methane.
4. Develop alternative energy systems, such as clean fossil, renewable (solar, wind), and safe nuclear power.
5. Implement forestry programs to reduce the effects of global climate change. Trees take greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide out of the air.
6. Plan and act now to adapt to a changing climate, which could result in rising levels of the seas and changing rainfall patterns.
7. Pursue an aggressive program of research.
While some experts still argue about the potential effects of climate change, Mrs. Kunin urged her fellow governors to avoid further delay.
``Let us no longer argue. ... Let us begin to take steps ... no matter what the open questions are,'' she says.
While some experts express great concern about the earth's land, sea, and air, environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook cautioned the governors to keep things in perspective.
``The environment of planet Earth is nearly indestructible,'' he observed. ``It has survived ice ages, bombardments of cosmic radiation, [and] collisions of comets and asteroids. ... Human assaults are pinpricks.''
Even so, man should remember that over 99 percent of all creatures to ever thrive on Earth are now extinct. The key for man is keeping Earth's biosphere suitable for humankind, he says.