It's unnerving to watch the flowers on my balcony bud in January.

It's even more unsettling to see the trees outside my condo flower in winter.

Last year's U.S. weather was the hottest on record, and the last nine years have been among the 25 warmest on record for the continental United States. The New York Times just ran a startling story about melting arctic ice in Greenland leading to a rise in sea levels far swifter than scientists predicted.

No wonder speculation is mounting that President Bush may finally discuss climate change in realistic terms in his State of the Union speech next week. Maybe he's noticed the cherry blossoms are in bloom in the nation's capital - this month.

But just in case he still refuses to tackle global warming, a growing number of senators in the new Congress - from both parties - are raring to go.

This week Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.) and Richard G. Lugar (R., Ind.) introduced a sense-of-the-Senate resolution that calls on the United States to address climate change through international negotiations. Such a resolution would have died in committee last year, when Republicans controlled Congress and senators such as James M. Inhofe (R., Okla.) labeled global warming a hoax. But with the new Democratic majority, this bill may pass - with plenty of Republican support.

"This resolution sends a message that the United States wants to continue to negotiate with the rest of the world on carbon controls," says Mark Helmke, who works on climate issues for Lugar. In other words, senators from both parties are taking on an issue of paramount foreign policy importance on which the White House has punted.

One of the many mysteries of the Bush presidency is why he needlessly undercut America's leadership role and image abroad by his approach to global warming. In opposing the Kyoto Protocols, he never offered any credible U.S. alternative on an issue of key concern to our allies. He even dismissed the pleas of his close supporter, Tony Blair, to take the issue seriously.

But even before last year's losses by the Republicans, the Bush approach was being bypassed by local and state politicians, and by growing numbers of businesses. They either recognized the need to control emissions, or understood the economic value of doing so.

Take California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hardly a tree-hugger, who signed a law that commits his state to lower its greenhouse-gas production to 1990 levels by 2020 and gives manufacturers incentives to lower carbon emissions. Schwarzenegger wants to make global warming a major issue in the 2008 presidential elections.

Cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Minneapolis have passed laws on decreasing pollution that contributes to global warming. Energy executives from companies such as General Electric, sensing future trends, have asked for carbon caps. Wal-Mart - the world's biggest retailer - has pledged to turn itself into a company that runs on 100 percent renewable energy and produces zero waste.

Like the flow from a melting ice cap, this rising tide seems finally to have reached the White House. Perhaps the president noticed that his own administration has proposed to list the polar bear as a threatened species, because its icy habitat is literally melting, even as the White House refuses to unfreeze its opposition to carbon curbs.

Whatever the reason, Bush finally made a slight verbal thaw on global warming. Last July he admitted the human contribution to global warming: "I recognize that the surface of the Earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem."

But public opinion is way ahead on this issue, says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"The public has a very different sense of the problem," she says, brought on by a variety of personal experiences, from dramatic weather shifts, to Al Gore's popular movie An Inconvenient Truth, to stories about, yes, the polar bear.

Claussen expects many bills on climate change in the Senate this year and many congressional hearings, all of which will compel presidential candidates from both parties to address the issue in 2008. Indeed, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who is passionate on the topic, has just introduced an emissions-control bill, cosponsored by Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Democrat Barack Obama (D, Ill.).

How sad that so many years and so much U.S. prestige have been squandered by the White House's failure to deal constructively with climate change. Might we have a Bush version of Nixon-to-China on this issue next week, that reasserts presidential leadership by offering a serious plan, not just verbal spin? Most experts I spoke to are dubious. We'll soon know.

Contact columnist Trudy Rubin

at 215-854-5823 or

Read her recent work at