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Joshua Keyak

Joshua Keyak

Posted: December 2, 2009 01:46 PM

The Time to Reduce is Now

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Climate change is real.  If we do not get our act together soon there will be serious consequences.  In order to avoid what some scientists call an apocalyptic scenario by century’s end, we must stop increasing global carbon emissions by 2015 and cut carbon emissions by 25-40 percent to 1990 levels by 2020.  While the global communities actions have already committed the world to a 1.4 degree Celsius increase over pre-industrial levels, if we do not make these cuts the world will see mass irreversible extinctions and widespread food and water shortages.  According to the Global Humanitarian Forum's 2009 Human Impact Report, the consequences from climate change has already killed hundreds of thousands of people, costs over a hundred billion dollars annually and we can expect those numbers to grow. 

Climate change is a global problem.  As a global community we must act together.  While some countries have committed to cutting emissions, the problem is they will only commit to make sizable changes on the condition that other countries commit to make comparable reductions.  The European Union committed to a 20 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels, but they will increase that to 30 percent if other wealthy countries do the same.  The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R.2454) would commit the US to a 17 percent reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels which is merely 4 percent lower than 1990 levels.  While reduction in US emissions alone would not be enough to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change, the US does play a vital role.  By making serious commitments to reduce emissions in the US countries like China and the EU would be more willing to follow suit.

The ACES bill that just barely made it out of the House does not mandate even the bare minimum necessary 25-40 percent reduction.  The bill includes many provisions for reducing emissions such as new requirements for utilities, funding for new green technologies, and incentives for energy efficiency in buildings and homes.  Another aspect of the ACES bill is the establishment of a Cap and Trade system which would regulate only the largest emitters, mostly utility companies.  A Cap and Trade system would create a market for carbon emission and limit the supply of carbon credits to limit total carbon emissions and encourage innovation in reduction.

There has been much attention focused on the Cap and Trade aspect of the ACES bill.  Supporters say that a Cap and Trade system reduces the cost to the affected companies.  It allows them to choose how they want to reduce their emissions and gives them time to make changes because the initial cap does not require much reduction but it will force emission reductions as the cap is lowered annually.  It has been criticized as being too costly and only encourages companies to reach for the low hanging fruit.  Critics also say that it would cost citizens due to an increase in utility and gas prices.

This bill suffers from the same problem that most American legislation faces: it needed to be watered down to give it a chance of passing through Congress.  Americans are not willing to take on the cost of reducing their emissions just because scientists say that there will be consequences in the future.  At this point, no bill aimed at reducing carbon emissions at the necessary level will have a chance of passing through Congress.  Understanding that, we must accept the little progress Congress does make and support this bill as it is a start in emissions reduction.  We are rapidly approaching a point of no return when the time for preventative measures will have passed and we will be forced to face the consequences of our actions. 


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