July 23, 2010
No sooner had Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Thursday that climate measures would be dropped from a new and much more narrowly focused energy bill than the finger pointing began. Democrats blamed Republican resistance. Republicans countered that not even enough Democrats were wedded to cuts in carbon emissions. Climate advocates groused privately that the president didn’t do enough to help. Journalists blamed environmentalists for an inflexible message that didn’t rouse enough public ire.
Whatever. It’s painful.
Still, in the dispiriting hours after the announcement climate advocates and Senate leaders agreed that the Earth is warming dangerously, the nation will suffer economically as climate change accelerates, and that giving up is not an option. “If we can’t do it in the next weeks, we’ll do something that begins to do something responsibly in the short term,” said Senator John Kerry, the Senate’s most important climate action leader. “But this will stay out there, and we’ll be working on it. We’ll be asking you to talk to your senators and move them to understand why we have to get this done.”
“The twin challenges of building a clean energy economy and addressing global warming are too important to fail,” said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. “The fight to create new clean energy jobs and solve the climate crisis will continue — in this Congress, in the states and at the EPA.”
The new and less ambitious energy bill that Senator Reid plans to introduce next week will focus on a response to the BP Gulf disaster, improvements to energy efficiency, converting vehicle fleets to natural gas, and other energy measures that are more likely to attract bi-partisan support. But the introduction of such a bill would appear to have the effect of squandering the work of the House, which passed a cap-and-trade bill in June 2009 that set a national cap on carbon emissions and required companies to have permits for such emissions.
The question pondered by climate activists in and outside of Washington is what will it take to tee up and pass a comprehensive climate bill? The worst oil disaster in the nation’s history wasn’t enough. Nor was the news this week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2010 is the warmest year on record.
New Message Campaigns Needed
Two openings, though, for new and urgent message campaigns may have presented themselves this week.
The first was a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that linked climate change to water shortages and found that “more than 1,100 counties — one-third of all counties in the lower 48 — will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming.” Water is personal, essential, and very much at risk in the era of climate change.
Secondly was the news that China next year will put a price on carbon and start a program of domestic carbon trading to help it meet a 2020 carbon intensity target. Americans thrive on competition and there is no more important global race than the one China is winning in developing the markets and technology to command the multi-trillion dollar low carbon economy.
This troubling week also included the sad news that Stephen Schneider, the Stanford climatologist whose ability to communicate the risks of climate change to ordinary people was as keen as his scientific acumen, died at the age of 65. Paul R. Ehrlich, the biologist and population expert, said of Schneider, “I don’t think anybody has worked harder and longer to educate the public on climate issues in particular and science issues in general.” Our condolences to Schneider’s family and all of us who knew and admired his work.
Until next week, take care, Keith Schneider