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When asked about the new standards, an auto-industry lobbyist called the theory of global warming a 'big if'

by Novella Carpenter

Where to start? In May, I wrote a column about high gas prices, when a barrel of oil was trading at $40. This past week, oil hit more than $50 a barrel, the highest recorded price since 1983. Gas prices, analysts say, will quickly follow the ballooning price of oil. According to The New York Times, oil prices are up 55 percent this year and have doubled in two years. At the same time, four hurricanes--Jeanne, Ivan, Frances and Charley--hit the Gulf states on Sept. 26, Sept. 16, Sept. 4 and Aug. 13, respectively. Four hurricanes in the span of six weeks is a record. The storms have caused widespread devastation, and 1,500 people have died, including scores drowned in Haiti. Scientists have been warning that since hurricanes draw their power from the heat of warm water, as the climate heats up and the ocean waters warm, we will see an increase in the number and destructive power of hurricanes.

At the same time, a civil war in Nigeria may break out, as rebels threaten to launch an armed struggle to gain control of the region's oil riches. Nigeria is the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports. The leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, warned that all oil company employees would be targets. Oct. 1 marked the 44th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Britain. The rebels may see parallels between the British occupation then and today's oil companies like Royal Dutch/Shell and Agip, which provide government troops with equipment and maps to fight the rebels. Dokubo-Asari pledges to fight unless the government holds a conference to discuss ways to grant self-determination and greater control of oil wealth by the country's poor.

Meanwhile, scientists have released three separate papers that record a remarkable increase in the melting of the glaciers in Antarctica, connected to global warming. Scientists observed that when ice fringes along the shelf of glaciers melt, they release larger ice sheets into the ocean, where they quickly melt. Through satellite and aircraft surveys, one group found that the glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea had thinned at a rate twice as fast near the coast as they had in the 1990s. The international panel studying global warming predicts that by the end of this century the oceans will have risen two feet or so.

Meanwhile, the election is creeping near. The economy is Bush's weak point, with a public approval rating of less than 50 percent on the way he has managed the nation's economy. Since the economy depends on having a plentiful supply of cheap oil and since the high cost of oil might jeopardize his campaign, the Bush administration decided to loan 1.7 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and suggested that it might make more available if need be. On Wednesday, the price of a barrel of oil fell sharply after the government reported that the inventories of crude rose 3.4 million barrels that week.

At the same time, the California Air Resources Board passed a resolution to require the auto industry to cut 30 percent of the carbon dioxide and other emissions scientists have linked to climate change and health risks. The board would like to reduce smog, prevent forest fires caused by unusually long droughts and avoid early melting of mountain snow, which leads to flooding. California also worries about the rising sea levels, which threaten coastlines. These stricter standards are expected to be followed by other states. But these standards will only start taking place in 2009. When asked about the new standards, an auto-industry lobbyist called the theory of global warming a "big if."

At the same time, I was driving down to L.A. to investigate its "river," a concrete-bound, polluted trickle. I had a lot of time sitting in traffic to think about these news events. The sun went down on the beach next to Highway 101 and cast an angry red glow. I thought I saw a strange pattern in the sky, but I didn't want to look closely--I was too busy driving.

Novella did not eat at Pink's Hot Dogs on her trip to Los Angeles; email her at [email protected].

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From the October 6-13, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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