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Strategizing Global Warming

October 12, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

When Barbara Boxer (D-CA) took over as chair of the Senate’s chief environmental panel in January, it was a sea change for Congress’s relationship to global warming. The previous chair of the Senate Environmental Public Works Committee, James Inhofe (R-OK) is on record calling global warming, “the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.” Not surprisingly, he kept the committee from acting on legislation to cut greenhouse gases.

Boxer entered her chairmanship ready to act on global warming. She quickly introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, a strong bill to amend the Clean Air Act and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Joe Liberman (I-CT), also a member of the committee, introduced the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, a somewhat weaker bill to reduce carbon emissions, and as the time approaches to move a bill, the two proposals stand in the committee waiting for senators to choose between them on a way forward. In a web-only article for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard ponders the choice:

>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 latter, incrementalist strategy has the upper hand at the moment. The vehicle is a bill that will be sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, and John Warner, Republican of Virginia. The bill is still taking final shape, but its key provisions reportedly include a 10 percent mandatory reduction in emissions by 2020 and 70 percent by 2050.
>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 approach, sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, comes much closer to the scientific consensus. The Boxer-Sanders bill (like a similar measure sponsored in the House by California Democrat Henry Waxman) calls for mandatory 80 percent reductions by 2050 and stipulates that they be real reductions; i.e., not just carbon offsets. The Boxer-Sanders bill also would uphold the “polluter pays” principle by selling emissions permits rather than giving them away.

The article goes on to quote author and journalist Bill McKibben, who seems to believe that the choice Congress makes between these two bills will serve as a benchmark for future dealing with the issue:

>"We are really playing for the opening months of 2009 here," said McKibben, adding that it would be better for the current Congress to pass nothing than to approve a weak bill, because a weak bill would lower the bar for the next Congress and President and deflate pressure for reform by giving people the impression that the problem has been solved: “Since Bush is going to veto it anyway, there is no reason to make [a 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.”

Photo of Iceberg B-15A used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of the National Science Foundation [via pingnews]

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