I’ve been critical of the Obama Adminstration’s move to put the climate bill in the Senate on hold while making it work on health care. In my opinion, besides the greater urgency in the real world for a bill to pass the Senate by Copenhagen (versus the political points of doing health care first), having Congress work on healthcare and climate change bills at the same time splits the progressive community up, since part of it prioritizes working on health care reform, and another part is busy advocating for climate legislation. A new article in “The New Yorker” magazine by Elizabeth Kolbert highlights how President Obama needs to stop talking about action, and act like passing a climate bill by the end of this year is the short term top priority for him. Excerpts below.
“n October 13, 1992, the United States became the world’s first industrialized nation to ratify a treaty on climate change. The treaty committed its parties to the important, if awkwardly worded goal of preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
“The convention remains in effect, and for the past seventeen years the United States has insisted that it is living up to its terms. Under Bill Clinton, this claim was implausible; the U.S. took no meaningful action to reduce its emissions. Under George W. Bush, it became a bad joke. (When the Bush Administration wasn’t handing out tax breaks to fossil-fuel companies, it was muzzling climate scientists and storming out of international negotiations.) The election of Barack Obama seemed in this, as in so many other areas, to offer a fresh start. A few weeks after his victory, Obama vowed to open a “new chapter” on climate change. And yet, almost a year later, the United States is again—or, really, still—stuck in the same old pattern. We keep saying that we want to be marching at the front of the parade, and then hanging back with the tubas.”
“What would it take for the United States actually to show leadership, instead of just talking about it? First, it would have to impose binding emissions limits of the sort that it has spent the last two decades evading.”
“In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which was designed as a sort of warmup exercise (and which the United States never agreed to), this new treaty is supposed to be the real thing: a pact strong enough to avert, as Obama put it, “irreversible catastrophe.” Both China and India, which have long resisted emissions targets, have recently signalled a willingness to make a deal. If the American team shows up in Copenhagen with nothing to offer, though, it’s hard to imagine how such a deal could be struck.”
““Is the U.S. Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?”
“When the President proposed that Congress take up a climate bill along with health-care legislation and, on top of that, regulatory reform, he made an enormous gamble. This gamble, at some point, could have been called bold; increasingly, it just seems naïve.”
“For the world to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference,” the United States is, finally, going to have to live up to the commitments it made under the Framework Convention. And, in order for this to happen, Obama is going to have to move climate change to the top of his agenda—quickly. As the President himself put it last week, “The time we have to reverse this tide is running out.”