An item in today’s Washington Post rams home the disastrous inevitability of the massive effects of global warming.

Greenhouse gas levels currently expected by mid-century will produce devastating long-term droughts and a sea-level rise that will persist for 1,000 years regardless of how well the world curbs future emissions of carbon dioxide, an international team of scientists reported yesterday.

This lede is somewhat deceptive, however — not for the immensity of the crisis that it forecasts, but for the subtle implication that inaction will be as effective as action in preparing for these devastating global changes. The scientists’ findings are a warning cry, certainly: carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gases, and is “more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” they caution. But the study also emphasizes the importance of not delaying in halting our current carbon emissions, lest the sea rises of the future be even higher, the droughts more pronounced, and the repercussions of our fecklessness even more deadly. The money quote, from the study’s senior scientist: “The more time that we take to make decisions about carbon dioxide, the more irreversible climate change we’ll be locked into.” So there’s irreversible, and then there’s irreversible.

If President Obama’s early sign of support for a California emissions regulation that his predecessor subverted is any indication, then he understands the imperative of immediate U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change. And with Al Gore testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject tomorrow, Congress does not seem to be waiting to take action either.

Without such initiative, those iconic emperor penguins of the Antarctic, according to the scientists, will go marching right into extinction within the next century.

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