03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Politics Back Home

This post originally appeared on the NRDC Action Fund blog, The Markup

The climate talks in Copenhagen are in danger of stalling out, but President Obama has the power to push them forward. If he commits to pushing Congress to give real money to help developing nations address the realities climate change, we just might be able to reach a meaningful agreement on Friday. That kind of agreement could mean a lot of things: a cleaner world, a more stable global economy, and a safer place for future generations.

There is just one problem: the politics back home.

After Congress addresses the industry lobbies, consumers and other domestic interests, there may be crumbs left for helping the poorest and most vulnerable survive the impacts of our global warming pollution. And while we shouldn't make apologies for Congress addressing interests in the U.S. first (that is actually why they were elected), it is important that they don't forget the very real role that the U.S. should take in helping put the entire world on the path to a clean energy future.

If President Obama says the right thing in Copenhagen, he'll need our help to follow through. Unfortunately (or fortunately for those of us who are fans of the checks and balances), the President can't spend the "people's" money without an act of Congress. Oh sure, he can reprogram some dollars but when it comes down to it, real money is going to take a majority of our politicians getting on the same page.

It is up to us, the American people, to let the administration know we want President Obama to do the right thing and we will support efforts to get Congress to follow-through.

We need to tell him it is cheaper to help developing nations invest in clean energy and forest preservation today then it will be to pay for the military and humanitarian mobilizations of tomorrow when unchecked global warming causes civil unrest and widespread flooding, disease, and hunger.

And we need to assure him that we - the public - believe in the principle of the polluter pays. The same idea that gave rise to the Superfund law here at home should apply to global warming. The United States and other rich countries generated the lion's share of carbon emissions that are putting poorer nations at risk of floods and droughts. It's only fair that we help foot at least some of the bill to address those very real issues.

Unfortunately, the other side is mobilizing.

Fossil Fuel Industry Doesn't Want to Redirect Subsidies
The fossil fuel industry wants to hold on the status quo. Right now, the U.S. spends more than $10 billion of taxpayer money a year in subsidies for fossil fuel companies. Some administration officials have suggested redirecting those subsidies into climate financing. This means U.S.-based, multinational companies would see some of the subsidies going to their dirty polluting technologies and fuels redirected to helping poorer nations green their economies. The industry has the influence and money to mount a very formidable challenge to any effort that might take a dime out of their pockets.

Some Fail To See the Entire International Picture.
In all too many instances, politics is like an advanced form of a pimply-middle school student-run government. Remember those girls on the student council who would sell their souls to get a soda machine in the cafeteria, but neglected the fact that the student-body had decrepit books and that the gym equipment was falling apart? Sometimes Congress can have the same problem.

In this case, we have a group of Senators that are incredibly focused on ensuring that China and India act on climate before the United States does. That is not a bad thing. Indeed, international pressure from folks, like these electeds, has started the ball rolling and China and India are starting to make modest commitments to lower their global warming pollution, which will hopefully increase with time.

In the meantime, many are missing the whole other part of the global story: that some poor nations will literally be wiped off the face of the earth or completely destabilized by climate change is we don't take action right now.

Another Group of Senators Doesn't Believe Climate Is a Problem
Yet there is another club of senators so eager to block action that they have traveled all the way to Copenhagen to get in the way of progress and actual teamwork: the climate deniers. I am interested to see how these flat-earthers react to hearing poor nations of the world fight for their future survival.

The part of my brain that has been in politics for years knows full well that these climate deniers don't give a darn about the opinion of internationals.

I can't help but effuse solidarity with the entire human community and I want to make sure these denying senators understand that getting enough money to fight climate change isn't about winning elections. It is about whether millions of people live or die.

Tell the Obama Administration to Do the Right Thing
As President Obama prepares to head to Copenhagen, we should remind him that the majority of Americans do not belong to the fossil fuel industry and we get the bigger picture. We belong to a nation that could unlock the climate talks with our leadership.

This is a moment that calls on us to do everything we can to move the world forward on this critical issue. But President Obama must know he has the American public's support before he will commit to such a move.

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