President Barack Obama took a turn on the international stage this week, resulting in a $1 trillion agreement on international banking and regulation that USA Today and the Washington Post applauded (and which other big papers treated with more skepticism). Finding international solutions to our international economic mess is a good thing -- particularly with the unemployment rate hitting 8.5% -- but we can't help but be excited about something else entirely.
In remarks to the assembled leaders and international press, President Obama said the United States would lead by example in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and confront global warming. That's a huge shift in the Bush Administration policy, which at best could be described as "we're all in this together -- including you, China and India" and at worst could be viewed as "head stuck firmly where the temperature remains constant."
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Congress -- or the Democrats in Congress, anyway -- are busy laying the groundwork for Obama to make good on that pledge. A sweeping House bill that would both set up a cap-and-trade regulation for carbon emissions from power plants and factories and reduce emissions from the transportation sector -- all with the goal of slashing emissions 20% within about 10 years. That's a more aggressive target than Obama had set, but it's certainly in line with recommendations from scientists.
Unveiling ambitious climate policy is one thing, but Congress has to pony up the money to set the thing in motion. And it has. The budgets approved this week by the House and Senate lay the groundwork for enacting Obama's energy policy (as well as his health care and education policies). The budget weighs a heavy $3.5 trillion, which is giving Republicans an easy reason to vote "No." The Democrats argue that investments now -- despite, or because of the bad economy -- are the smartest approach to ensuring we don't run into this kind of economic brick wall again in the coming decades. When it comes to the climate, the time is now.
Really, the time was several years ago -- evidence keeps piling up that we can't wait to address global warming. The most recent example comes from the government's own scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who announced this week that the Arctic summer may be ice-free by the time a child born today reaches his 30th birthday. Previous estimates had assumed we had til the end of the century before we'd see that dramatic a change, but -- as with just about every other indicator of the pace of global warming -- the changes are coming faster, and are proving more intense than previously predicted even by many worst-case scenarios. The trouble with the ice doesn't stop in the Arctic, since replacing all that white reflective ice with dark water means the planet will be absorbing even more of the sun's heat -- think of it like turning off the air conditioner on a hot summer day.
But, while we're feeling lousy about the economy and the state of the planet's climate, we're still sort-of rubbing our eyes every time we hear our president say things that sound so...what is the word?...Eloquent? Fair? True?...
"China and India...justifiably chafe at the idea that they should somehow sacrifice their development for our efforts to control climate change," Obama said.
"We talked about...how important it is for the United States to lead by example to reducing our carbon footprint so that we can help to forge agreements with countries like China and India," he said.
"If China and India with their populations had the same energy usage as the average American then we would all have melted by now," he said.
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