Cars and coal

While it’s undoubtedly important to know whom J-Lo’s dating since Ben, and everyone wants to know about the latest fabulous party attended by the Hilton sisters, you’d think the news media could spare at least a few column inches for information on a secret Pentagon report predicting widespread nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine, rioting and a plunging of Great Britain’s temperatures into something resembling Siberia.

Why? Because global warming is real.

The report clashes with the Bush administration’s "What me, worry?" approach to climate change and so got little attention over here, though it was front-page stuff in British papers. Reporters there took notice of sentences like, "With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment."

The altered climate conditions, the report said, could last for a century, or maybe even 1,000 years. See all the grim details at

What fuels climate change? Cars and coal, basically, both powerful special-interest groups that usually get what they want in Washington. Partly to protect their interests, the Bush administration has censored climate change reports and altered scientific findings on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Some 60 scientists, including 20 with Nobel Prizes, signed a statement last month accusing the administration of distorting scientific fact to accomplish its policy goals. "Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front," the letter said.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the New York Times ran a series of stories revealing that Saudi Arabia (the top foreign supplier to the U.S.) may not have sufficient oil reserves to accommodate an anticipated doubling of demand in the next decade. In other words, even without the environmental implications, we can’t simply continue burning oil in our ever-growing fleet of SUVs.

Patrick Mazza is the research director of the Seattle-based Climate Solutions, and his book Stormy Weather (New Society) offers 101 solutions to global warming. There is a way out of this mess!

We can fill our cities with greenery; reduce, reuse and recycle; drive energy-efficient cars; encourage cycling and walking; build wind and solar capacity; organize car-free days backed by schools and churches; buy green power; apply taxes on carbon; encourage sustainable farming; stop global deforestation and form green alliances. Either we do this or the Pentagon’s scary scenarios will come true.

I’m driving an energy-efficient car myself this week, a five-speed Hyundai Elantra GT.

For $14,849 you get a car with four doors, a 2-liter, 138-horsepower engine and 26 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway. I realize it’s a little economy car and beneath the dignity of people with an innate desire to impress their neighbors, but I found the little car quite acceptable and reasonably fun to drive. It’s not a 60-mpg Prius, but it’s $5,000 cheaper.

Plus, if you buy it in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont or Maine, you’re getting a Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle, with 97-percent fewer hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions than a standard 2003 car.

The Elantra has its charms. The CD player is confusing, sure, but its dial changes colors in the most charming way. The seats are comfortable and there’s decent rear legroom and a commodious trunk. It’s not all that noisy for a four-cylinder car.

Unfortunately, vehicles like the Elantra are all but invisible to the average SUV-obsessed American car buyer. Events now offstage may soon change that.