As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Climate Saga: Too Much For The Senate, Not Enough For The World

Though there were early indications that the House package of the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill were spurring the development of similar policies abroad, among the Europeans who have already set up a cap and trade system for carbon emissions, the relatively weak standards forced into the bill by Blue Dogs and farm-state Democrats have them looking unkindly at it:

The European hosts of the Group of 8 summit meeting welcome the shift. But the new stance also worries them, in part because they fear that the United States is working toward an independent deal with China outside the global negotiating framework.

President Obama has stated a commitment to addressing climate change. That has been followed by the recent passage by the House of a landmark bill that, if also approved by the Senate, would begin to regulate heat-trapping gases. Those moves have given the Europeans, as well as climate scientists and some environmental groups, hope that the United States will take a leadership role in global talks toward a new climate-change treaty [...]

But Europe is also unhappy with the Obama administration’s reluctance to accept aggressive near-term goals for cutting greenhouse gases and its refusal so far to formally accept language that would limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels [...]

The president and other American policy makers also insist that no deal can effectively reduce emissions unless China, India and other major developing countries are on board. The United States has been pursuing a separate track of climate diplomacy directly with Beijing.

Michael Starbaek Christensen, a senior climate-change official in Denmark, said he was worried that the United States and China — the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world — would cut a separate deal and push the rest of the world into a treaty that did too little to curb emissions.

“I can only encourage Europe to stay in the lead and not let a bilateral U.S.-China relationship take over,” Mr. Christensen said, “because one concern I would have with the U.S.-China relationship is that they would find a lower common denominator.”

The G8 leaders could not even agree on the same aspirational targets of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that George Bush agreed to in Japan at the G8 in 2008. Put simply, the rest of the developed world finds the US targets too low. I agree with them, but of course our political process is almost uniquely wired against coming to a solution that matches the needs in the science. Plus we have an entire political party composed of denialists from the Exxon Mobil school of Energy Policy.

In the first Senate hearing today on clean energy legislation supported by President Barack Obama, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) compared the Senate to the “ExxonMobil board room.” Whitehouse expressed his concern that the United States would be left behind in the clean energy race, saying, “I do not want to see American industries at the back of that parade with a broom.” Addressing the Obama Cabinet members before him — Ken Salazar, Stephen Chu, Tom Vilsack, and Lisa Jackson — Whitehouse apologized for the denial of man-made climate change by his fellow senators:

"We know that this is probably — along with the ExxonMobil board room — the last place that sober people debate whether or not these problems are real, but we intend to work with you anyway, and we hope to give you strong legislative support if we can."

As I've often said, with climate change being a "boiling frog," intangible kind of concern, it's hard for me to believe that a Democrat from Idaho, for example, will face negative consequences from his No vote on Waxman-Markey. I'd like to be wrong about that. But the dynamics just haven't moved in the right direction yet.

As to the Senate, where the climate bill will almost certainly weaken again, Nate Silver postulates that there are 62-66 potential votes for legislation, and Bill Scher sees some possibilities among the GOP as well. I'm significantly more skeptical, especially with the lack of mass grassroots action, which just has not materialized.

...There's now a tentative agreement on a more limited plan to not let global temperature rise above 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

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