In August 2001, Connecticut’s own Governor Rowland and the other 12 members of the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers agreed to work together to confront global warming. Given the growing scientific consensus that human-induced climate change poses a real and substantial threat to human health and the global economy, the conference members signed onto a regional Climate Change Action Plan, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast to 1990 emissions levels by 2010, and to at least 10 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2020. The plan also established the long-term goal of reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions to levels that “no longer pose a dangerous threat to the climate,” which many scientists then estimated to be 75-85 percent below the 2001 levels. The governors resolved to enact firm climate change legislation in each of their states, with these three goals in mind.

Now, nearly two years later, the Connecticut legislature is in a position to make good on this commitment: Connecticut Senate Bill 595, “An Act Concerning Climate Change,” is on its way to the legislative floor.

The bill (viewable in full at Environment Northeast’s Web site) formally establishes the emissions reduction targets set by the 2001 Conference as Connecticut’s goals, and it sets a timeline for the state to develop a series of climate change action strategies to meet these goals. The bill also calls for a state-wide greenhouse gas inventory, which will allow the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to measure progress toward the target emissions levels.

While critics claim that the bill is too ambitious and its implementation too costly, the economic, environmental and health costs of global warming may be far greater. Indeed, the most recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate change research group, predicts a laundry list of potential hazards. According to this 2001 report, global climate change is (among other things) likely to increase the frequency of extreme weather events such as storms, droughts, floods and heat waves. Such events could have direct and disastrous effects on human health and agriculture. Moreover, coupled with rising sea levels and increases in ocean temperatures, these events are likely to harm fisheries and displace many coastal communities. The IPCC report states with “high confidence” that “the impacts of climate change may cause social disruption, economic decline and population displacement that would affect human health. Health impacts associated with population displacement resulting from natural disasters or environmental degradation are substantial.”

Despite President Bush’s refusal to address global warming as a serious concern, our very own Pentagon published an unclassified study last October, asserting that climate change may actually pose a threat to U.S. national security. The report (available at Environmental Media Services’ Web site), suggests that, as global temperatures gradually rise and glaciers in the Arctic melt, the freshwater flooding southward into the Atlantic could disrupt existing ocean currents and cause an abrupt drop in temperature in some parts on the world, including Europe and the United States. This sudden decline in temperature, according to the report, could generate widespread agricultural and economic failure, ultimately resulting in massive civil unrest. Although the report’s authors cautiously examine this possibility as a “worst-case” scenario, they conclude that “the risk of abrupt climate change, although uncertain and quite possibly small, should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”

Given these alarming findings, and the fact that our current federal administration continues to drag its heels in the global warming arena, states must lead the charge in combating human-induced climate change. Some states have already pressed forward: Maine, another signatory of the 2001 New England Climate Change Action Plan, enacted a bill nearly identical to CT Senate Bill 595 last June.

As part of the Climate Campaign, a regional student network to fight climate change, university students all over the Northeast participated in a Climate Change Day of Action last week, pressuring their state governments to follow Maine’s lead. Yale students involved in the Climate Campaign are now asking members of the Yale community to sign a letter in support of CT Senate Bill 595. It is time for Connecticut to become a leader in global warming legislation, and we at Yale have the power to push our state in the right direction.

Maggie Dietrich is a junior in Berkeley College. She is a co-chairwoman of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.