Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

On Monday, I had the opportunity to sit in on a talk by Joe Romm, author of the Climate Progress blog. He's a physicist by trade, and an incredibly bright guy. He's worked in the clean energy sector for decades, and recently joined the ranks of the Center for American Progress to blog about climate change science and policies.

Joe Romm must be the most frustrated guy in the world. He has a vast wealth of knowledge about climate change, climate policies, the coverage of the media, and all the subtleties and details of what needs to be done, and of that, what isn't being done at all.

He talked about how climate change is at its heart a market failure—a slew of externalities that are inherently unaddressed in the marketplace, but are not being addressed by the government.

He talked about the failure of the media to properly cover climate change to the extent that it needs to be covered—the way the media has rendered it a political debate rather than the scientifically indisputable impending global catastrophe that it is. More concerned with ratings and "he said she said" stories, the media has taken a path on the issue of climate change that will likely compromise the future of our planet.

He talked about how the "do-nothing" side has poured millions of dollars into messaging campaigns, advertisements, and lobbying to make sure that the public is misinformed and lawmakers are loath to take serious action. The situation is strikingly similar to the tobacco industry tactics of casting a doubt on the science that says that smoking is bad for you. It's a lot easier to sell simple lies than it is to sell complex facts, he said.

He talked about how there is a disconnect between the science and people's attitudes because we (at least in America) haven't seen many clear changes yet. Most of the warming is happening on the North Pole, where not many people live.

He talked about how the region from Oklahoma to California will become a permanent dustbowl over the next few decades.

He talked about the increasing probability of a four to six foot rise in sea level across the globe.

He talked about the likely 9 degree Fahrenheit average rise in temperature worldwide.

And this was all under the business-as-usual scenario, not the worst-case scenario.

While public concern about climate change and legislative action to curb it fluctuates with the political tide, we know that nearly every American favors energy independence. But the reality is you can't be serious about energy independence unless you put a price on carbon. If the EPA won't have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Congress needs to pass a strong bill to do so.

Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are expected to release their bill on Monday. It will be weaker than the House's bill, weaker than the Kerry-Boxer bill, and likely weaker than most climate bills we've seen (climate legislation has died in the Senate four times to date). But Congress, Romm said, has never passed a perfect piece of legislation. And a climate bill now will be a stepping stone to addressing the problem, and an opening for taking stronger action in the future. The Montreal Protocol itself was too weak to completely save the ozone layer, and the Clean Air Act itself was too weak to prevent harmful emissions and acid rain. It was the subsequent actions and reinforcements that made those bills strong.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. And we are facing the gravest humanity-induced problem in the history of the earth. The United States Senate is in a unique position to actually steer the international community in a new, needed direction on climate change by showing that we, the nation that emits the most harmful gases per capita, are ready to take action. Let's make sure that happens this year.

Images: Cartoon (Green

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