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Opinion: What to do while the world burns?

How we're out of time on global warming and why Copenhagen needs to get some tangible laws.

Lobbyists blurred the picture with skewed science. Today’s profits and status-quo job security outweighed any fresh thinking to protect the generations to follow.

Twenty years later, we are out of time and out of excuses. A lot of damage is already irreversible. But much can still be avoided by comprehensive, urgent action.

China is now the worst offender, and projections show that its single-minded focus on growth will poison the planet to a harrowing degree. But it is a dictatorship.

America must take the lead, partly because it made the most mess but much more because it is a democracy and its citizens get to decide what they think is the right thing.

It was Congress — Americans’ elected representatives — that torpedoed the Kyoto agreement even though Al Gore presided over the Senate. We should be smarter now.

The European Union is prepared to do more but not if Copenhagen amounts to arm wrestling over how little the Americans and the Chinese each have to give up.

If Washington and Brussels can find common ground, both can pressure Beijing to do its part. Now, however, each is enabling the others to waffle.

Developing countries suffer the most and pollute the least. But that argument applies only up to a point. Each has a responsibility when everyone’s survival is at stake.

“Cap and trade,” a badly understood catchphrase, allows large companies to continue spewing contaminates in the air. They pay for the right with increased profits.

Pointless debates cost us vital time. Is this man’s fault or God’s? Who cares? It’s happening. For proof, we can go to the Maldives or Greenland or the Alps — or any supermarket to check food prices.

Individuals’ efforts help, but they are not nearly enough. We need laws. National governments, international organizations, and big business have to act now.

We also need substantial public funding to develop alternative energy and mass transportation along with curbs on oil companies that thwart greener competition.

We need education programs, massive and urgent, to explain in clear terms why this is so crucial. We should all understand what we are doing to our own children.

With so many ifs and musts, this smacks of a deluded idealist’s rant. But take it as despair from a reporter who for decades has watched the world dry up and blow away.

Of course, this is all difficult to achieve. But what is the option?

That smoldering shag rug has already ignited the redwood paneling, and someone better turn on the hose. If we continue to doze in a collective stupor, we are cooked.