Faces of Climate Change: What Are U.S. Lawmakers Doing to Help?

A legislative update on a pressing problem.

Photograph: Photo by iStockPhoto.

In September, the U.S. Senate introduced a climate change bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,  but a new national energy law is not likely to pass before year’s end. This means that U.S. negotiators in Copenhagen, where representatives from 192 countries are gathering in December to draft a new global warming treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol, will be unable to make binding commitments. Countries looking to the U.S. for leadership on this issue will likely avoid making promises that pit their national interests against global ones.

Domestically, the debate hinges on costs. States whose economies depend on fossil fuel extraction, particularly in the Midwest and West, fear that a shift to clean energy will plunge already suffering locales into deeper turmoil. Political momentum for climate change law accelerated after Hurricane Katrina, says Rachel Harris, climate change coordinator of WEDO, the Women’s and Environment Development Organization, in New York: “It showed that the United States is not immune to huge disasters that look like Third World disasters.” Yet many Louisiana lawmakers, who know full well the fury of climate-related storms, oppose the bill because it will hurt the state’s oil-and-gas industry. In June, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which calls for a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020. The Senate target is 20 percent, and the level ultimately codified by U.S. law will likely fall somewhere in between.

But politics has a long way to catch up with science. Experts say that much deeper cuts are needed to avert catastrophic global warming, including water shortages, expanding deserts, and rising seas. Whether rich and poor countries can bridge this divide remains to be seen.

To sign a petition urging President Obama to act on climate change.

To sign a petition urging the Senate to act.

First Published Mon, 2009-11-16 12:46

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