Recently, in an article you cannot read without a subscription, E&E News's Darren Samuelsohn provided an extensive report on whether or not there's any possibility of a global warming bill becoming law in 2008. Essentially, the article amounted to a long list of if-then statements Bush might be convinced to sign something pretty weak; but Democrats might have reason to hold out for 2009 when they can get something stronger; but we'll also have to see who the party nominee is and how he or she feels about the subject; but on top of that we'll also have to see what industry thinks once it's clear who the final two candidates are going to be because if both support greenhouse gas regulations then industry will see it as an inevitability and push for something sooner...
Bah. These are the facts. The Senate is going to bring up the bipartisan Lieberman-Warner bill, which would establish a cap-and-trade regime that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by the year 2050. Most environmentalists and scientists think this is too weak to insure us safely against the worst possible climate catastrophes. But at the same time, and as the Samuelsohn article makes clear, it is very likely too strong to pass both houses of Congress and get signed into law by the president especially during an election year when there is a massive incentive on both sides to muck up the works to score political points, rather than to compromise and work together.
So with so many roadblocks and contingencies, why on earth would we want to expend legislative energy on the subject, except to force some of the current candidates who lack serious climate reform plans (like Mitt Romney) into a tight spot?
As a political strategy there may be some sense to that. But as a world-saving strategy, it seems clear to me that we should wait for a new Congress and a new president before finally seeking to achieve meaningful action on climate change.
Consider: The politics of this issue are changing rapidly and dramatically, expanding the sphere of what's possible and you can bet that by 2009, an even stronger bill will be able to pass. Between now and then, after all, we are probably going to just get worse and worse news from the climate system, and the sense of alarm and the need for action will only increase.
Meanwhile, we currently have a president who is intransigent on climate change; but in 2009, in all likelihood, we will have a president who wants to lead on the subject, and who can bring all of the considerable resources of the federal government to bear in enacting change. Indeed, we'll have a president who can put in place an entire government dedicated to greenhouse action implementing a cap-and-trade regulatory regime to cut emissions, preparing climate change adaptation measures, investing in new energy technologies the works.
And there's still another consideration. Dealing with global warming requires a two-pronged approach, encompassing both domestic action and international action. The latter will not occur until late 2009 at the earliest, when the successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be negotiated in Copenhagen. Ideally, the United States should go into those negotiations with the momentum generated by a president's whipping all of the country, including Congress and the federal government, into climate action; securing a political victory' and then taking the precedent set domestically abroad so that the entire world then falls behind the United States including India and China.
For all these reasons, the best moment for action on global warming is going to be in 2009.
In the meantime, let's focus on getting the right candidate elected one who can step up to the plate when it is really going to count.
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