Climate Change Optimism and Political Realities

BY ON December 2, 2014

Road sign reading "political pressure straight ahead"

It has been an interesting few weeks. The ramifications of the election were starting to set in when President Obama shifted the conversation with his announcement that the United States and China had reached an agreement to vow to reduce carbon emissions. There were kudos from a wide range of people. New York Times editorial writer Paul Krugman wrote of its importance in his column. Timothy E. Wirth, the Vice-Chairman of the United Nations Foundation said, “If the two biggest players on climate are able to get together, from two very different perspectives, the rest of the world can see that it’s possible to make real progress.”

Soon after, I was on a phone conference organized by ClimateNexus, which parsed the importance of the deal. There were several major threads. At the forefront was that the two biggest carbon emitters had come forth with a commitment, set an example, and said to the rest of the world, “Follow Us.” Dr. Gary Wynn Yohe, Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University and a lead author for several chapters of the IPCC Reports, qualified the bilateral deal as “extraordinarily important.” He stated, “What happened two days ago was the United States and China said we’re going this way.”

Sherry Goodman, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security), drilled down on how the agreement could help to ameliorate potential global security threats. The military has been sounding the alarm about climate change, as a multiplier for global instability. Goodman saw the agreement as offering, “the possibility for a more stable path” and “one important step in putting the pieces together.”

Needless to say, a reporter on the call asked for a comment on the Republicans, who insist that the pact is a jobs killer (He must have been thinking of Mitch McConnell’s statement.).

Jake Schmidt, the Director of the International Program at NRDC, dismissed the premise as old rhetoric, and spoke about the significant investment that China has been making in wind and other renewables. Goodman underscored that a transition to lower carbon could “lead to innovation and new technology and forms of energy.”

One of the top takeaways contributed by Yohe was in response to a question about how a new administration in 2016 would impact the policy. He answered, “Climate change is now firmly on the agenda for the 2016 election.”

The importance of the role of our elected officials, both local and statewide, couldn’t have been more pronounced than during the day-long drama of dueling debates on November 18. Watching on CSPAN, it seemed like the whole political scenario was an endless loop of one step forward and two steps backwards.

In the House of Representatives, there was a discussion about the three bills that had been introduced to add new requirements (or restrictions, depending on your point of view) on the ability of the EPA to issue regulations.

In the Senate, a debate about the Keystone Pipeline had moments of drama, sarcasm, and comments that could only offer disbelief. It was brought to the floor by Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has received hefty contributions from fossil fuel companies. Her best quote was, “The pipeline will not impact climate change.”

Not surprisingly, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the current Chairperson of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, was voracious in her call for the defeat of what she termed the “extremely lethal pipeline.” Going toe-to-toe with her “Republican friends,” she called out their concern for employment opportunities with the comment, “To stand here and say this is the best thing for jobs is “phony-baloney.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders lamented the “horror of the pipeline,” calling the tar sands, “The dirtiest fossil fuels imaginable.” Asking why Congress was moving backwards, he got emotional when he said, “I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think.”

The bottom line is that voters must make sure that the men and women who run for office are committed to protecting the environment. I fear, we will be playing catch up as the environmental stakes continue to rise for future generations.

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TOPICS: Carbon Pollution, Climate Change, Environment, Keystone Pipeline, Politics