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Monday, January 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Climate change heats up

Speculation is rampant President Bush will warm to climate change Tuesday in his State of the Union address. A policy reversal by the White House would be welcome, but much of the country has already moved ahead.

A good example is a recently released study of climate change and its impact on Washington's economy, an examination commissioned by the state departments of Ecology and Community Trade and Economic Development. In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities across the nation are taking the initiative in investigating and contemplating the consequences of global warming.

The signs are all around us in rainfall patterns, retreating glaciers and annual temperature records. Some of the governmental activity looks at diminishing the toll of greenhouse gases on the environment, and other inquiries look to the pitfalls and opportunities that accompany climate change.

The president might be on the verge of rethinking his views on a so-called cap-and-trade approach, which allows clean companies to sell greenhouse-gas credits to companies in manufacturing, transportation and energy-related production as they work to curb emissions.

As the White House works to choke down its skepticism of the whole concept of human-caused global warming, this state commissioned a team of economists and scientists at the University of Oregon to look at the economic effects of climate change here. Their time span covered more than three decades into the future.

Virtually all regions of the state and its economic sectors dependent on water will feel the consequences of global warming.

Washington is already living with declining snowpack and earlier peak stream flows. Those have expensive consequences for hydropower generation and fish migration. The state has already seen a dramatic growth in wildfires as evaporation increases and soil moisture declines.

Rising sea levels have design and financial impacts for Seattle's Alaskan Way seawall.

Municipal water supplies are directly affected by changes in snowpack and stream flows. Competition for water will change its use and applications in agriculture. Higher costs seem unavoidable.

Anticipating change will avoid disasters, but it means a competition between conservation and increased storage capacities, and debate over allocation protocols and the fundamentals of water law.

Mitigation and adaptation — not avoidance and denial — are the key words for confronting global warming and assessing the public-policy changes ahead. President Bush can help a lot in that regard.

Read the report at www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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