A few years ago, even your moderate Democrat might argue that the “jury was still out” on whether humans were effecting the climate. With the stark realization that the ice around the Earth’s poles is quickly melting away, (nations including the U.S. are actively vying for a stake hold on new Arctic ship passages) there’s now no question that humans are having an impact on global weather.

On Monday, April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of California and Massachusetts against the federal government to consider carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Later in the week, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford announced the members of a Climate, Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee, a group tasked with reviewing possible climate change impacts in S.C.

To encourage citizens to take a personal, active role in lessening the repercussions of climate change, Al Gore and the organization Step It Up have declared Sat., April 14, the National Day of Climate Action. Here in Charleston, the Lowcountry Environmental Action Network will host a Global Warming Awareness Fair Saturday, an event that will include multiple speakers from Mayor Joe Riley to Charleston Surfrider Foundation’s Mike Arendt. They’ll also have live music and booths from local organizations to educate people on how they can bring about positive environmental change.

On Thurs., April 12, one of the nation’s leading climate change experts will host a discussion at the College of Charleston. Terry Tamminen is the driving force behind most of California’s groundbreaking environmental legislation, having served as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top advisor and the head of the California EPA. He recently stepped down to focus on spreading the message of his book, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. Tamminen spoke with City Paper last week from a stop in Vancouver to share his compelling, albeit chilling, knowledge of the crisis all living things now face.

City Paper: Vancouver today, Charleston next week. What are your main goals on this whirlwind tour?

Terry Tamminen: Well, it’s a little bit of promoting the book, but also to try to Johnny Appleseed the California Climate Action Plan, which is our law that reduces greenhouse gases, and to try to take those lessons on the road and help other governors do similar work.

CP: Do other states have similar legislation forthcoming?

TT: Very much so. Nineteen states at this point either have or are working on fairly comprehensive climate action plans. My prediction is that by the time a new president goes into the White House (Jan. 2009), pretty close to half the states in the nation will have similar laws. I’d say a lot of those will be big states, so we’ll have a majority of the U.S. population living in a state that is dealing with climate change.

CP: How did climate change and oil become your main focus?

TT: I went scuba diving in the Santa Monica Bay as a kid and was introduced to the undersea world. I came back to the same spot 10 years later and found that it was completely devoid of life. That led me to create the Santa Monica Baykeepers. It was a quick growth of things that really started from that first recognition that humans were powerful enough to destroy something as big as the ocean.

CP: Do you see plant-based fuels like biodiesel as a solution?

TT: I think they’re very important in terms of displacing our petroleum addiction, but we have to be careful that they don’t end up being the same in terms of greenhouse gases. If you harvest corn in Kansas and put it on a rail car to California to make ethanol, by the time you expend all that energy for cultivation and transportation and drying of the corn, you’re not much better off than you were with the gallon of gasoline. Of course, the difference is that we’re not killing anybody in Kansas to get the supply of raw materials. It also helps build the demand for alternative fuels, which means that research development will try to make those fuels more efficient and cleaner. There’s cellulose ethanol, where you take the stalk of corn and other waste materials, and turn that into biodiesel. There are ways of getting a better yield per acre.

CP: Your book states that diesel fuel is the top airborne killer in America, causing as many as 120,000 annual cancer cases.

TT: It’s because of the particulate matter that it generates. We’ve all driven behind a big old school bus or garbage truck with a cloud of black soot coming out of it. That particulate matter gets deep into our lungs, actually penetrating the lungs’ walls, and gets in our blood and literally thickens it, the way fat thickens gravy. That causes very profound health effects, from unborn children all the way up to the elderly.

CP: You also claim that a gallon of gas includes $6 dollars in subsidies from the government.

TT: There’s about $113 billion a year in direct tax subsidies from the federal government going to oil and auto companies, and there’s hundreds of billions more in health care costs. In California’s central valley, farmers lose as much of a third of their crops due to petroleum related air pollution. Just as ozone and other components of smog harm your lungs, it harms other living things.

CP: Do you think California and other states will file lawsuits similar to those against tobacco companies?

TT: Absolutely. In September, our attorney general filed a lawsuit against the six major auto makers, with the cause of action being ‘common nuisance.’ They might be producing and using their product legally, but it’s creating a nuisance to the rest of us, and therefore they should compensate taxpayers for health care costs and the cost of dealing with climate change.

CP: A lot of free-trade capitalists will see that and say it’s a matter of personal responsibility on the part of the consumer.

TT: For 80 years, oil and auto companies have lied about science, lied about the harms of their products, lied to regulators, lied to the public, and literally taken away our alternatives. In the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, they bought up mass transit agencies in 45 U.S. cities and scrapped clean electric light rail cars, forcing cities to buy dirty diesel buses, the impact of which we live with to this day. People should be responsible for themselves, but when your alternatives have been taken away, just like the tobacco companies manipulating the levels of nicotine to keep people addicted, a citizen’s first responsibility is to hold these companies accountable. In terms of individual actions, everyone of us should insure that we drive the most fuel efficient vehicle we can, use mass transit, and demand alternative vehicles by using them. When hydrogen cars come out, people can be early purchasers, and that will send the signal to Detroit and Tokyo that these are the vehicles we want.

Terry Tamminen speaks at CofC’s Admissions Auditorium in the Robert Scott Small building, 175 Calhoun St., on Thurs., April 12 at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Visit www.livespergallon.org for more info.

The Lowcountry Environmental Action Network hosts the Global Warming Awareness Fair on Sat., April 14 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in Liberty Square, across from the Aquarium. Admission is free. See www.sclean.org for more.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.