Amidst all the excitement about Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the questions and dreams about a possible presidential campaign, and the inevitable criticism from right wing cynics (demonstrating, once again, that they neither understand nor even like the concept of peace), let’s not lose focus on what really matters. It is not about the man, it is about his cause; and he is the man he is because he puts the cause above any personal considerations, and whether or not he runs will undoubtedly be determined by his best assessment of whether it will be the best way to serve the cause! We need also keep that priority straight! The coming weeks are critical, and we can help!
Largely because of Al Gore and the IPCC, global warming and climate change have now come to be frontline political issues. Bush no longer ignores it, and now tries to spin it (the best he will ever do on any political issue), and Congress is finally crafting legislation to address it. For now, this is where we need focus.
Mark Hertsgaard, the environmental correspondent for The Nation, puts it directly:
Now that Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, will the US Congress take the IPCC’s scientific advice on how to fight global warming? The IPCC holds that the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 80 percent by the year 2050. Few in Congress seem prepared to go that far, however. And judging from the discussion at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, even lawmakers who personally embrace the “gold standard” of 80 percent reductions are prepared to endorse a weaker measure in the name of getting some form of climate legislation moving in Congress.
If we take Al Gore seriously, and we take seriously his Nobel Prize, we need to immediately begin lobbying Congress to do the same. This is no time for the compromises that define the usual failures of our political system. With the issue in the headlines, we need let our Congressional representatives know that we are watching, and that we are expecting more than lip service.
The question is, what bill will reformers get behind? How ambitious will they be? Will they demand what the scientific community says is the minimum necessary to enable our civilization to (perhaps) avoid the worst future scenarios of global warming: deep cuts in emissions by 2020 on the way to 80-90 percent cuts by 2050? Or, in the name of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, will they favor a more modest and gradual approach?
The weak, ineffectual compromise approach is being championed by those champions of political weakness and ineffectual compromise, Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Joseph Lieberman (?-CT). Their bill would mandate emission reductions of 10 percent by 2020, and 70 percent by 2050. That they would, for some reason, decide on an approach that falls 10 percent short on such a critical goal says everything. It won’t solve the problem, but it will make nice window dressing. It’s not just embarrassing and absurd, it’s dangerous!
Not only do these provisions fall short of the scientific standard; there is even less here than meets the eye. The bill, as described in briefings and press accounts, contains a number of loopholes, including provisions that (1) will give rather than sell greenhouse-gas-emissions permits to polluters, thus violating the “polluter pays” principle of environmental accounting, and (2) count so-called carbon offsets–that is, paying someone else to reduce emissions while continuing to emit oneself–as genuine reductions.
An alternative has been proposed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernard Sanders (I-VT), with a similar bill in the House being sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). Their bills mandate the 80 percent reductions, on real terms, rather than with carbon offsets, and they make the polluters pay. Hertsgaard links to the World Resource Institute’s comparison of these, and other, proposals.
Of course, only one of the bills is getting traction, on Congress.
According to sources speaking on background because of the confidential nature of the discussions, most Senate Democrats and many environmental and other public interest groups are preparing to support the Lieberman-Warner bill, despite misgivings about its shortcomings.
While some in Congress apparently believe it is important to pass something, anything, environmental writer Bill McKibben disagrees. Since Bush is likely to veto even Warner-Lieberman, McKibben believes that even passing it will only serve to lower the bar, for the next Congress and the next president. It will make Warner-Lieberman appear to be the proper standard. Clearly, that would be unacceptable.
As McKibben explained to Hertsgaard, in a previous interview:
Since Bush is going to veto it anyway, there is no reason to make [a climate bill] less ambitious than what science requires. Climate change isn’t like other issues. It doesn’t do any good to split the difference to reach a deal everyone can live with. Climate change is about the laws of physics and chemistry, and they don’t give.
We’re all thrilled that Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s time for us to help them leverage that prestige, by pressuring Congress to do what is right. Call your senators and congresspeople. Tell them that Warner-Lieberman is unacceptable, and that the only valid options are Boxer-Sanders and Waxman. We now have the political momentum. Let’s not waste it!