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In Adirondacks, George H.W. Bush honored for Clean Air Act

In the North Country, former President George H.W. Bush was remembered Saturday for saving the Adirondacks.

He signed the amended Clean Air Act, with the goal of substantially reduced acid rain and ozone depletion. Both goals were met. Locally, acidified lakes have become much cleaner, and Lake George is far better off than it would have been without the increased protection.

“The Clean Air Act was a very important act, from a water quality standpoint, with the reduction of the acid rain,” said Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky.

Data collection on Lake George has shown an improvement in water quality as acid rain diminished.

“So clearly the Clean Air Act that President Bush put through was very beneficial,” he said. “That’s really when the acid rain started reducing in the Adirondacks.”

Acid rain pulls nutrients from the soil, killing forests. Aluminum leached from the soil washes easily into rivers and lakes, killing fish and water plants.

The earlier Clean Air Act hadn’t made much of a difference in the Adirondacks, which are particularly vulnerable to acid rain because there is so much precipitation and impermeable bedrock.

But the amended act that Bush pushed for was far stricter, and that had the effect this region needed.

Data released this year found that many acidified lakes in the Adirondacks have recovered to the point where they are habitats to water fowl and fish again.

The amended law also helped the ozone layer recover. While people remember the law for the fight to eliminate acid rain, it also phased out ozone-depleting substances. This year, researchers announced the hole in the ozone is starting to close.

The chemicals that were phased out were greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming, so their elimination was a major step toward reducing warming.

Pat Dowd of the Lake George Association cited the ozone layer protections as one of the biggest helps locally.

Lake George has warmed over the last 30 years, which encourages invasive species and has made the lake more vulnerable to algal blooms.

“But it would have warmed more without that legislation and caused more problems,” Dowd said. “We all have President Bush to thank for the condition of the lake now.”

Bush was also a man of the people, said Queensbury resident Freda Solomon, the widow of former U.S. Rep. Gerald Solomon.

She and her husband were once invited to the White House private quarters for dinner.

“He took us on a complete tour of the private quarters, through all the rooms, including their bedroom and bathroom, which had wet towels every place,” Solomon recalled with a laugh.

Bush’s wife Barbara “threw up her hands” when her husband insisted that they see the bathroom.

“But he said, ‘This is the people’s house and I want you to see it,’” Solomon said.

She remembered Bush as a trustworthy gentleman who worked with everyone to find solutions to the nation’s biggest problems.

“The solutions were thoughtfully prepared,” she said. “There was just more respect.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also cited Bush’s ethics.

“He was a fine man and even when he opposed your views, you knew he was doing what he thought was best for America,” Schumer said in a statement. “His yearning for a kinder and gentler nation seems more needed now than when he first called for it.”

Likewise, U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik, R-Wilsboro, called Bush the embodiment of the Greatest Generation.

“I join the nation in honoring the life and legacy of President George. H.W. Bush, a true son of America who lived an extraordinary life of service, grace, strength, and character,” she said in a statement. “President Bush will be remembered by the world for his enduring strength that brought an end to the Cold War, his extraordinary commitment to serving others through his thousand points of light, and his beautifully written letters. He was truly a great man who lived a giant life.”

Climate change worse than we imagined

WASHINGTON — Climate scientists missed a lot about a quarter century ago when they predicted how bad global warming would be.

They missed how bad wildfires, droughts, downpours and hurricanes would get. They missed how much ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland would melt and contribute to sea level rise. They missed much of the myriad public health problems and global security issues.

Global warming is faster, more extensive and just plain worse than they once thought it would be, scientists say now.

International negotiators will meet in Poland in the coming days to discuss how to ratchet up the fight against climate change in what’s called the Conference of Parties. The world’s understanding of global warming has changed dramatically since the first conference in March 1995. Since then, the globe on average has warmed nearly three-quarters of a degree (0.41 degrees Celsius) but that’s not even half the story.

That global annual temperature increase is slightly lower than some early 1990s forecasts. Yet more than a dozen climate scientists told The Associated Press that without the data currently available and today’s improved understanding of the climate, researchers decades ago were too conservative and couldn’t come close to realizing how global warming would affect daily lives.

One scientific study this month counted up the ways — both direct and indirect — that warming has already changed Earth and society. The total was 467.

“I don’t think any of us imagined that it would be as bad as it’s already gotten,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles, a co-author of the recent U.S. National Climate Assessment. “For example, the intensity of severe weather. We didn’t know any of that back then. And those things are pretty scary.”

In the 1990s, when scientists talked about warming they focused on the average annual global temperature and sea level rise. The problem is that people don’t live all over the globe and they don’t feel average temperatures. They feel extremes — heat, rain and drought — that hit them at home on a given day or week, said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Richard Alley.

“The younger generations are growing up where there is no normal,” University of Washington public health and climate scientist Kristie Ebi said, pointing out that there have been 406 consecutive months when the world was warmer than the 20th century average.

More recently economists have joined scientists in forecasting a costly future. Yale economist William Nordhaus, who won the 2018 Nobel prize for economics for his work on climate change and other environmental issues, told the Associated Press that his calculations show climate change would cost the United States $4 trillion a year at the end of the century with a reasonable projection of warming.

The way science has looked at global warming has changed over the last quarter century because of better knowledge, better computers, better observations, more data — and in large part because researchers are looking more closely at what affects people most. Add to that what many scientists see as an acceleration of climate change and the picture is much bleaker than in the 1990s.

Scientists now better understand how changes in currents in the air — such as the Jetstream — and the rain cycle can cause more extreme weather. And recent research shows how climate change is altering those natural factors.

The biggest change in the science in the last quarter century is “we can now attribute changes in global temperatures and even some extreme events to human activity,” said Sir Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British climate scientist who chaired the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 1997 to 2002.

Scientists attribute extreme events to human-caused warming by comparing what happened in real life to simulations without heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels. They’ve concluded climate change has caused more rain in hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Katrina and others.

Studies have shown climate change has worsened droughts, downpours and heat waves, such as the Russian one in 2010, that have killed thousands of people. And they have linked climate change to the growing amount of land in the western United States burned by wildfire, which wasn’t considered a big climate issue a couple decades ago, said University of Utah fire scientist Phil Dennison.

From air pollution triggered by wildfires that caused people in Northern California to don breathing masks to increased asthma attacks that send children to the hospital, medical experts said climate change is hurting people’s bodies.

Massive ice sheets in western Antarctica and Greenland are melting much faster than scientists figured a quarter century ago, too.

Antarctica has lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice since 1992, enough to cover Texas nearly 13 feet deep, scientists reported in June. Greenland has lost more than 5 trillion tons in the same period.

Non-experts who reject mainstream science often call scientists “alarmists,” yet most researchers said they tend to shy away from worst case scenarios. By nature, scientists said they are overly conservative.

In nearly every case, when scientists were off the mark on something, it was by underestimating a problem not overestimating, said Watson, the British climate scientist.

But there are ultimate worst cases. These are called tipping points, after which change accelerates and you can’t go back. Ice sheet collapses. Massive changes in ocean circulation. Extinctions around the world.

“In the early 1990s we only had hints that we could drive the climate system over tipping points,” said Jonathan Overpeck, environment dean at University of Michigan. “We now know we might actually be witnessing the start of a mass extinction that could lead to our wiping out as much as half the species on Earth.”

Bush hailed across party and global lines as man of decency

WASHINGTON — Former President George H.W. Bush is returning to Washington as a revered political statesman, hailed by leaders across the political spectrum and around the world as a man not only of greatness but also of uncommon decency and kindness.

Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home at age 94, is to be honored with a state funeral in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. Following an arrival ceremony Monday, his body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda for a public viewing until Wednesday morning.

President Donald Trump, who ordered federal offices closed for a national day of mourning on Wednesday, is to attend with first lady Melania Trump and other high-ranking officials.

Trump ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days to honor a man of “sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership.” The president and the first lady added that Bush had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.”

Bush will be laid to rest Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.

The school announced Saturday that Bush will be buried at the family plot next to his wife, Barbara, who died in April, and their 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died in 1953. Texas A&M University President Michael Young said no classes will be held on the day of Bush’s burial.

Bush didn’t attend Texas A&M but in 1991 chose the campus as the library’s site. The campus is located about 90 miles northwest of Houston, where Bush lived.

Bush’s crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

“We didn’t agree much on domestic policy, but when it came to the international side of things, he was a very wise and thoughtful man,” former Massachusetts Gov Michael Dukakis, a Democrat who lost the presidency to Bush in 1988, told The Associated Press on Saturday. He credited Bush’s ability to negotiate with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as playing a key role.

“It was a time of great change, demanding great responsibility from everyone,” Gorbachev told the Interfrax news agency. “The result was the end of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.”

During that time and after, Gorbachev said, he always appreciated the kindness Bush and his family showed him.

In Washington, the former Republican president won praise from leaders of both parties.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded him for leading the nation with “decency and integrity,” while Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “privilege to work with him.”

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Bush “befriended political foes, reminding Americans that there is always more that unites us than divides us.”

At the G-20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in then-divided East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.

A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He had enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday.

Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, a union that lasted until her death earlier this year.

After military service, Bush enrolled in Yale University, where he would become a scholar-athlete, captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2 ½ years.

After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the U.S. economy began to sour, however, and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people.

He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.

“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?” he joked in 2005.

Clinton said he would be “forever grateful” for that friendship.