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Carla Wise

Carla Wise

Posted: October 17, 2008 02:24 PM

Climate Change Action a Casualty of the Economic Crisis? Not So Fast.


Reporters and politicians agree, so it must be true. The economic crisis spells doom for swift action to cap greenhouse gas emissions. It's been splashed across the newswires, from AP and Reuters to the Huffington Post: pundits say that the focus on stabilizing the economy will make it impossible to pass an effective law to cap greenhouse gas emissions. To that I respond by paraphrasing the great wordsmith and humorist Mark Twain; the reports of the death of climate change legislation have been greatly exaggerated.

It is WAY too early to say how this economic crisis is going to affect the prospects for serious climate change action in the U.S. The recent outbreak of pessimism on the subject is coming mostly from those who have been looking for ways to block climate action for years. Rick Boucher, D-Virginia (a coal state), Joe Barton, R-Texas (an oil state), and John Dingell, D-Michigan (the car state), have not exactly been fans of strong and effective climate legislation. And when the spokesman for Duke Energy Corporation was quoted as saying that "economic realities" will move climate action down the list of national priorities, one can assume that it was wishful thinking on his part.

Here are five reasons for calling malarkey on all this pessimism:

1) We don't yet know who the next president will be, or what congress will look like. Evidence suggests that the changes brought November 4th will make these two branches of government more likely to get serious about addressing climate change. Evidence also suggests that the economic crisis has improved the chances for democrats up and down the ticket, and democrats have been, in general, more supportive of efforts to realistically face climate change. So far, attempts to pass effective climate change legislation have failed, but things may be quite different in January.

2) Some converging plans have emerged that call for economic development, energy independence, and the de-carbonization of our energy systems. Barack Obama's energy plan, if fully implemented, would create millions of new green-collar jobs, boost renewable energy and energy efficiency, and implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Al Gore is promoting, through his "We Can Solve It" campaign, a switch to 100% clean electricity sources in the U.S. within 10 years. And the Apollo Alliance, which started as a politically diverse group of bigwigs interested in domesticating our energy sources, is now getting behind renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions as well. Their new plan proposes huge investments to accelerate converting to a "clean energy economy" while creating millions of new jobs. Only domestic renewable energy offers us a path toward safeguarding our economy and our planet at the same time. Many smart people are beginning to realize this.

3) We have been hampered for eight long years by a federal government that believes that environmental regulatory agencies should be prevented from doing their jobs. If the EPA is set free to function again in January, many climate change solutions will be on the table again. As just a single example, Bush's EPA chief denied California's request to slash greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. This denial is currently blocking a huge piece of California's landmark efforts to address global warming. At least 15 other states are ready to adopt California's vehicle emissions standards if and when the EPA decision can be reversed. An administration that allows our environmental agencies to function will allow quick progress at least at the state and regional level simply be getting out of the way, struggling economy or not.

4) You never know exactly what the climate will do, but more severe and harmful climate disruptions are in the forecast. Predictions are for increasing droughts, flooding, severe wildfires, climate-related insect kills and heat waves as the climate warms. As these weather disasters increase, they will get harder and harder to ignore. Economic and climate-related crises will cause pain, and people may be more likely to demand or at least accept change when they are struggling.

5) In response to the twin threats of the world economic crisis and the global climate crisis, the UN is readying a proposal for a "Green New Deal." Modeled on Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the plan calls on governments worldwide to redirect massive investments into green job creation programs in everything from replanting and managing forests to building renewable energy networks. The plan, to be unveiled next week, is based on the premise that the world economic crisis provides an opportunity for massive redirection of government resources into job creation programs aimed at restoring the environment and arresting climate change. Idealistic? Yes. Possible? Maybe.

No one, not Al Gore, John Dingell, you, or I know much about how the next few months will play out. I'm just saying let's quit pretending we do, and keep working for solutions to the climate crisis.