The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 by a margin of seven votes, 219 to 212. Kudos to Chairmen Waxman and Markey for taking the lead on the most crucial issue of the next several generations, the threat of global climate change. Many perceive the issue as an environmental one, and one that is only a victory for "environmentalists." But that couldn't be further from the truth.
As I have touched on many times, climate change is an all-encompassing issue that threatens a seemingly endless variety of other issues. You might personally believe that healthcare, civil liberties, war, or any number of other issues is a bigger priority than climate change, a supposedly futuristic notion predicated upon shaky science. But every issue being debated in the United States today can in some way be connected to climate change—or at least related policies.
Tom Friedman wrote in Tuesday's Times that weaning ourselves off of oil could serve to undermine oppressive oil-rich regimes in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Many countries rich from oil use their profits to invest in nuclear weapons or fund terrorism. Anyone care to do something about nukes and terrorists? Isn't that why we're in Iraq and Afghanistan (or at least Afghanistan)? Isn't that why we're so frightened of Iran?
If we don't address climate change, the healthcare issue will only be exacerbated. Airborne diseases will increase with increased temperatures, including potential epidemics for which we are ill prepared.
If we don't address climate change, refugees of floods, droughts, and desertified lands will try to flee to other countries to rebuild their lives, and as we see all over Africa and Asia, an increase in ethnically diverse populations in economically depressed regions competing for the same jobs and resources tends to lead to intrastate conflict that can easily spread across borders. Want to help prevent war? Help prevent climate change.
Even the agricultural community in the United States, who lobbied hard enough to essentially fend off any potential regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector, would be drastically affected by even a minor change in temperature and climate conditions. But the major problem here is that no one thinks in the long term.
And that is exactly why Republicans, only eight of whom voted for the legislation today, are able to exploit it for political gains. 'It only amounts to a tax,' they say. 'It will only hurt American business and force consumers to pay more for their heat, power, and gasoline.' For them, it's not about preventing disaster across the world. It's about winning back a Republican majority in the United States Congress by exploiting myopic concerns. But climate change is not just an environmental issue, and it's sure not a partisan issue. It has somehow devolved into both over the course of the debate on regulation, and will inevitably cause forward-thinking politicians to lose their seats. This is the unfortunate reality in a democracy like ours of standing up for what is right, even if it may not be exceptionally popular in the short run.
So the Waxman-Markey bill, even though it was watered down excessively to cater to wealthy businesses and utilities and power-wielding lobbyists, has finally passed. No one knows if it will accomplish anything near what scientists say we need to. But at least it's a start. And now the issue will move on to the Senate, where it will be diluted even more, and progress will only be hindered further. In 40 years, we'll all look back at this and wonder how we could have been so ignorant. Those who opposed the bill are on the wrong side of history, just as the anti-civil rights folks were in the '50s and '60s. But in the realm of climate change, by the time that fact is universally accepted, it could very well be too late.
Images: Climate rally outside Capitol (Wall Street Journal), Ahmadinejad in front of oil refinery (New York Times), Republican opponents to ACES (TreeHugger)