It’s Time for a New Approach on Global Warming

NWF   |   December 5, 2007

We are running out of time to act. The latest data from the Arctic show that the planet’s massive polar ice cap may melt decades faster than scientists had been anticipated. The world’s leading scientific body on climate change warned this month that between 40 and 70 percent of species could disappear from the face of the Earth.

Ten years have already gone by since 160 nations agreed to the landmark Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, during these critical years, the United States sat on the sidelines while other nations worked on solutions. At a time when we should have been cutting pollution, U.S. emissions instead increased by six percent.

As I write, the nations of the world are gathering in Bali to reinvigorate global cooperation on climate change. But the Bush administration is giving other nations a cold shoulder once again.

So what can we do?

We can learn a lesson from California’s approach to global warming. California recognized its impact on global emissions as the sixth largest economy in the world and forged ahead with solutions.

If California can do it, surely the U.S. Congress can, too. Neither the House nor the Senate has ever passed a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. That is shameful.

Fortunately, two leaders in Congress from California are helping fill the leadership void, and are successfully making action happen on the most pressing issue facing the nation.

Before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took over this year, the House had passed a steady diet of subsidies and favorable treatment for oil companies and other polluters. Now, under her leadership, the House has passed a far-ranging package of clean energy measures. And, working with Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., she has successfully added a measure to improve fuel economy for cars and SUV’s, providing yet another important down payment on global warming action. We expect a vote on the House energy bill today.

As Speaker Pelosi works to deliver energy legislation to jumpstart our clean energy future, California Senator Barbara Boxer is setting the stage to keep the momentum going in Congress. As chair of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over global warming legislation, she is working to improve and advance a bill that will go even further to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major polluters.

The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act is a bipartisan bill that would put U.S. pollution on a downward pathway and create new economic opportunity for clean energy technologies. The bill requires companies to turn their emissions around and steadily cut their emissions of global warming pollution by about two percent every year. The bill quickly puts us on the pathway scientists say is needed to deal seriously with global warming. Senator Boxer’s efforts are the best hope for forcing the Senate to vote on a serious global warming bill before the elections.

Despite the progress Speaker Pelosi and Senator Boxer are making in Washington, they have had to make concessions along the way. Some who share my sense of urgency about global warming may be inclined to criticize leaders for not pushing for perfection. I share the frustration that too many members of Congress are still dragging their feet. Voters will have the opportunity, and I would argue the responsibility, to hold those members accountable at the ballot box in November.

In the meantime, urgency requires action. Every minute we delay U.S. action, we pump another 25 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It’s time for Congress to stop stalling, and indeed, Boxer is moving climate legislation forward in the Senate. Just moments ago, as the mark up of this important bill began in the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. George Voinavich, R-Ohio, acknowledged, “we are bringing this issue to a head.” It seems that all sides of the debate recognize that this is a turning point.

The old approach of waiting for the president to join international efforts has led to years of delay. And yet, jumping to an all-or-nothing approach in Congress could also lead to stalemate.

Pelosi and Boxer should continue to push for progress that puts us on track with what the scientists say is needed, even if it comes in stages. They deserve credit for leading the way on what is arguably the biggest challenge of our time.

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