We Are the World

Fallout continues in the wake of last Friday’s narrow passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, otherwise known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, in the House of Representatives. Paul Krugman can’t believe 212 reps voted against it, while Matthew Yglesias points to a conservative faction that has branded eight Republicans who helped pass it as "traitors."

MJ4EVR1.jpgGlobal devastation: Not as catchy as "Billie Jean."

Then there are those who say Waxman-Markey isn’t enough to stem the imminent threats posed by climate change. Grist reports that MoveOn.org may launch a campaign to have the bill strengthened, and on the Streetsblog Network, Robin Chase of Network Musings compares the massive and sustained public outpouring surrounding the death of Michael Jackson to the relatively meager attention given to an alarming new climate study. MIT researchers say global temperatures could rise by nearly 10 degrees by 2100 — more than doubling prior predictions. Writes Chase:

There is little about the world we live in and rely upon today that will be familiar or viable in that world just 90 years from now. Water, agriculture, land use, species — our survivability — will be in a totally different territory. Really, not just metaphorically.

We need this reality to get at least as much attention as Michael Jackson’s death. It should motivate more tweets, more street action, more conversations, more pondering about what life means, makes it worth living, legacies, life potential, and the fate of offspring.

If MJ’s death motivated to you spend 4 minutes listening to a song you wouldn’t have listened to last week, then email your Senators and tell them the climate change bill before them is far too weak and too slow. Tell them that you’ll willing to commit more than $175/year by 2020 in high energy prices (the impact of the House version of the bill), and then start talking with everyone you know.

Also today: Second Avenue Sagas questions the relevance of the Straphangers Campaign; DC Bike Examiner wonders if motorist-cyclist conflicts are over-hyped; Carfree Chicago hopes for a transportation commissioner who gets it; and Bicycle Fixation applauds an effort in the UK to encourage cycling among rail passengers.

  • The peak oil crisis may reduce supply, resulting in demand destruction, considerably sooner. I’m not saying it’s a panacea or that terrible things aren’t about to happen. But it will effectively put us on a radical fossil fuel diet well before 2100.

  • Let me rework that: The peak oil crisis is likely to reduce the supply of oil, and increase the price, resulting in demand destruction, considerably sooner. I’m not saying it’s a panacea or that terrible things aren’t about to happen. But it will effectively put us on a radical fossil fuel diet well before 2100.

  • An authoritative voice saying that the Waxman-Markey Act would be dangerous if passed because cap & trade would be meaningless is James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen contends that Waxman-Markey is nothing more than a feel-good measure (and thus dangerous in its soothing power to make us feel we’ve done something). He proposes that halting the creation of more coal-burning power plants, and taking existing plants off-line, is the only way to keep atmospheric carbon levels from reaching a point where the planet’s climate would be catastrophically altered. Last week’s New Yorker had an excellent profile on Hansen — unfortch, it’s no longer available for free on line — however, there is a little blurb here about his arrest at a protest against coal plants:
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2009/06/elizabeth-kolbert-james-hansen-the-arrested-scientist.html

  • The key point to remember about Waxman-Markey is that we won’t have another chance to stop the worst effects of global warming. Scientists agree that world CO2 emissions must peak by 2015 to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees C. If Waxman-Markey passes, it is possible that negotiators in Copenhagen will come up with a treaty that makes this possible. If Waxman-Markey fails, there will be years of delay before the world acts, and it will be impossible for emissions to peak as early as 2015.

    When moveon.org complains about Waxman-Markey “repealing part of the clean air act,” they show that they are unclear on the concept of cap and trade. The whole point of cap and trade is that fossil fuels are so central to the economy that it is not economically feasible to phase them out using direct regulation under the clean air act. Instead, we need cap and trade to create a mechanism that lets the cheapest emission reductions occur first. It is perfectly appropriate for Waxman-Markey to say that cap and trade will substitute for the clean air act to control ghg emissions.

    Moveon.org might want to work to strengthen Waxman-Markey by increasing the short-term goal for CO2 reductions, which was weakened from 20% to 17% by 2020. It would make sense to try to get that back up to 20% or more.

    But their complaints about repealing the clean air act are a recipe for political failure, based on lack of understanding of the purpose of cap and trade.

  • Jason A

    Mark,

    The flipside is peak oil will make filthy, carbon-rich alternatives like oil shale and tar sands all the more attractive.

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