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Why and How to Act on Energy-Climate

All it really takes is a quick glance at the headlines: Maybe things are getting better in Afghanistan – and maybe not. Maybe the oil spill in the Gulf is getting better – and maybe not. Maybe the economy is picking up – and maybe not. Maybe the tornados and hurricanes and heat waves and cold spells and droughts and floods are no more than usual – and maybe not. The list goes on.

All it really takes is a quick glance at such headlines to realize that the 2 things leaders on climate change most want, (1) a cap on greenhouse gas emissions incorporating a mechanism to implement it and (2) incentives to drive the building of New Energy and Energy Efficiency, are answers not just to the problem of climate change and not just the answers to more and cleaner energy, but the answers to the whole host of woes screaming from the headlines.

About the only thing strong action against climate change won’t do is pick the next Supreme Court Justice. That, at least, is (hopefully) not beyond the capabilities of the Senate.

The Case for Action; Creating a Clean Energy Future, from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, cogently makes the case for across-the-board action on climate and energy. It is worth reviewing the arguments because the crucial Senate fight over climate and energy legislation – surely the last chance for such legislation before the coming election – will (barring the unforeseen) come to the Senate floor soon after the 4th of July holiday. Seeking to exploit common ground discovered in the wake of the national abhorrence of the Gulf oil spill, Senate Oil Savings’ Greatest Hits; The Best Provisions to Cut Our Consumption, from Daniel J. Weiss and Susan Lyon of the Center for American Progress (CAP), suggests some specific measures to control the nation’s addiction to oil, points of bi-partisan agreement that could smooth the way in the Senate. ::continue::

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The Pew Center paper begins with the fundamental point that climate change is happening and humans are the cause. The first half of the statement has become undeniable by even the staunchest of Al Gore foes. It is the second half that conservatives still find difficult to accept.

Yet as much as conservatives might wish to deny it, the fact is this: The heating is happening too fast to be explained by any natural phenomenon or combination of phenomena. In the absence of accumulating GhGs, the world’s average temperature would actually now be cooling. There are no scientific measurements anywhere that show anything but a feverish and rapidly worsening global climate.

In addition, thousands of items of independent data from thousands of separate research studies show tens of thousands of natural events occurring in a pattern indicative of warming that is over 90% consistent.

All this adds up to a preponderance of scientific evidence. It is considered conclusive. And, as the more cautious scientists point out, though it is not absolute proof, there will be only one chance to run the experiment and only one planet to run it on so it is but prudent to proceed in a planet-protective way.

The Pew paper goes on to show how the 2 basic actions to deal with the climate situation will also support improved practical outcomes. Reducing dependence on oil from troubled places and people will reduce the need for wars in such places fighting such people. The 2 actions will make U.S. energy more secure by making it more domestic and will rehabilitate the nation’s economy by shifting to domestic energy providers the hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute now spent on foreign oil.

Finally, the 2 basic actions to fight global climate change will jumpstart the U.S. New Energy economy. The cap and its method of implementation will generate revenues for the building of New Energy and Energy Efficiency infrastructure. The incentives will drive the private sector to do the same. Innovation will begin a virtuous cycle, jobs and productivity will follow and the final outcomes will be a new level of international competitiveness and a new sense of national abundance.

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The biggest obstacle to the realization of such a vision is neither technological nor economic but political and ideological. There is a significant minority for whom the 2 actions will not seem to be beneficial. For them, concrete steps to serve the patriotic cause of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil may be sweeteners.

The CAP authors compiled a list of measures in bills now before the Senate that could be effective, measures proposed by both Democrats and Republicans that could generate some cooperation on an overall energy and climate bill:

(1) Set an oil savings goal.

(2) Improve existing vehicle fuel efficiency requirements and set them for bigger vehicles and for all forms of transport.

(3) Create “fee-bates” to get people to buy fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles.

(4) Create more incentives for electric vehicles.

(5) Drive a transition to natural gas-fueled buses and trucks.

(6) Spend for and build alternative transportation infrastructure like light rail and rapid transit.

(7) Drive the use of New Energy fuels.

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The CAP authors conclude by suggesting 2 measures to pay for the transition away from oil without breaking the federal budget: (1) Use revenues generated by the mechanism through which the GhG cap is implemented and (2) transfer oil subsidies.

In his still most famous speech, President Obama said there are not red states and blue states but just the United States. The energy and climate issue, like so many others, divide the parties and their loyalists. What could finally unite them all – or tear them all to shreds – are the worst impacts of (1) foreign oil dependence, (2) vulnerable energy supplies, (3) a crippled economy losing to China and other countries in the race for New Energy technology, and – most of all – (4) an economy and society hamstrung by dealing with the consequences of worsening climate change.

Wouldn’t it be better to unite in the fight to prevent the worst impacts from happening? We still can. It’s something to think about over the Independence Day weekend.

This post is based on The Case for Action; Creating a Clean Energy Future (May 2010, Pew Center on Global Climate Change) and Senate Oil Savings’ Greatest Hits; The Best Provisions to Cut Our Consumption by Daniel J. Weiss and Susan Lyon (June 29, 2010, Center for American Progress)

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