Cities, States and Others Step up Action on Climate, Despite Federal Reluctance
Author: Elizabeth Autumn, MBA
Last year, Pentagon defense adviser Andrew Marshall issued a harsh warning of the consequences of climate change: mass chaos, national security crises and food shortages. If climate change occurs abruptly, the report declared, there could be a catastrophic breakdown in international security. Wars over access to food, water, and energy would likely break out between states. Even if climate change is more gradual, recent studies have argued that as many as one million plant and animal species could be rendered extinct by 2050 due to the effects of global warming. Climate change is the most serious challenge facing the international community. In order to plan for a sustainable future - one that meets needs today without compromising meeting the needs of future generations - global warming must be addressed. We have arrived at a stage in human evolution that requires international cooperation - a stage which demands that world leaders put world priorities ahead of national political agendas in order to halt the peril threatening humanity. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) asked all nations to renew their commitment to implement policies based on the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, environmental and social - in order to arrest environmental deterioration and revive world economic growth. In particular, the report stated, poverty has played a major role in environmental degradation. Not only is it our moral obligation to eliminate poverty, the report revealed it is essential to protecting and improving the environment. Further reports have concluded that environmentally unsound technology has been exponentially far more detrimental to sustainable development than even population growth. In order to achieve sustainable development, the Commission reported, our cities must be considered in the global concerted effort. Since three-fourths of the global warming pollution could be solved if we decreased burning fossil fuels, one of the most effective ways to transform urban growth is by switching to alternative energy sources. Fortunately, there are many means of harnessing energy which have less damaging impacts on our environment than fossil fuels, and we already have developed all the technological resources needed. Now we must admit there is a problem and start working in the direction to make this transition. If our current leaders do not want to face this pressing challenge with integrity, then as Leonardo Dicaprio urges, we need to vote for leaders who care about the environment and our health and the future generations who will bear the burden long after the Administration is gone.
A Call to Action
On October 25, 2005, Senator Hillary Clinton (NY) called for a national energy strategy enlisting the oil industry in a process that would help consumers while making the transition to alternative energy technologies. Her plan redirects the hidden ""tax"" that Americans are already paying to OPEC and the oil companies, but lasts only long enough to"" kick-start the alternative energy market that we all know is out there,"" she explained. Speaking to Cleantech Venture Network, a group of venture capitalists who recently were named by Wall Street Journal reports for their success in developing clean energy as a viable investment category, Clinton emphasized the immediate concern which is how to help citizens pay their bills and keep the economy moving in the face of dramatically higher energy costs. There is no question, she said, that our failure to make better energy choices is sapping our pocketbooks, limiting our competitiveness, threatening our environment and even our national security. ""Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made that brutally clear."" The far reaching problem we face, Senator Clinton stated, is coping with the impacts of massive economic development and competition for oil in other parts of the world such as India and China in the next twenty years. ""Loosening environmental standards or opening up a new oil field or two is not going to offset this seismic shift in energy demand,"" she explained. Her plan unburdens the American people of foreign oil dependence, investing a portion of the profits into the U.S. energy future, instead of regimes we would never choose to subsidize. The oil industries can choose to either reinvest their profits into America's energy future or contribute to a new Strategic Energy Fund, she said. The Strategic Energy Fund would help consumers cope with spiraling energy costs, promote adoption of existing clean energy and conservation technologies, while stimulating research and investment by the private sector. She also recommends assessing an alternative energy development fee for those companies deciding not to directly reinvest in our energy future. That fee, she explained would help fund energy transition. ""The Fund could generate as much as $20 billion a year to help with home heating oil costs and develop new energy strategies."" In this way, she explained, we would reduce our reliance on fossil fuel, make existing alternative technologies more affordable, jump start our technology, and regain U.S. world leadership. It's got ""Made in America"" written on it, in addition to providing a role model for developing nations. The ""energy revolution"" can be as big and important as the industrial revolution and the explosion of the information age. However, we have to do what America has always done when faced with a big challenge, she said, ""roll up our sleeves and dedicate this country to finding a solution."" In effect, she explained, ""the country that put a man on the moon can be the country to find new lower cost and cleaner forms of energy. Our nation needs it. Our planet needs it.""
Addressing Climate Change in the Environment of a Hostile U.S. Administration One of the most important outcomes of the 2002 World Sustainable Summit Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, was the decision to address climate change at the global level, starting at the local level-- all mandates that must be enacted locally as well as globally in order to begin to impact the effects of climate change. A decade earlier, the Rio de Janeiro Summit articulated the need to include humanity as well as environmental protection in the sustainability equation. Hence, it concluded, the critical problem of poverty must also be addressed. When the United Nations authorized the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, it had already realized poverty had deepened and environmental degradation had worsened since the 1992 Summit. The world needed a new summit of actions with results, and not just intent. Managing urban environmental conditions ultimately belongs with national governments, businesses, scientific bodies, and communities working together; but history shows us U.S. involvement has always sped and strengthened global progress in improving urban environmental conditions for sustainable development. Although U.S. partnership is needed to meet the increasingly urgent demands to make cities livable, the Bush Administration has not been forthcoming. While the 2002 WSSD Johannesburg Summit was the highest attended conference by world leaders, President Bush was sorely missed. According to original plans, explained participant Kaarin Taipale, ""the 2002 WSSD summit would have coincided with the first anniversary of 9/11."" Conference dates were changed at that the last minute in order to make it easier for the President to attend. Instead, Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Johannesburg to speak on the President's behalf, where as Taipale recalls, ""he was infamously booed."" Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky soon retorted by telling Summit attendees to focus on actions, ""actions being better than words."" U.S. action has been remiss. Vice Chairman of Friends of the Earth Tony Juniper said the United States has a lot to answer for what has gone wrong since the Rio de Janeiro Summit in 1992. Many trends that were categorized as urgent at that summit - such as poverty, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and overexploitation of renewable resources - had either stayed the same or become worse. First, the U.S. refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at the 2002 Summit - the single most important environmental treaty to stop Climate Change. In addition, Juniper reported, the Bush Administration had been telling the world about the importance of free trade while protecting its own steel industry and hiking agricultural subsidies to the degree of harming other nations. In fact, heavy pressure on the U.S. Administration for Bush not to attend the Summit, said Juniper, seemed to originate with the big business and corporate lobby. U. S. representatives to the Summit proposed business friendly partnerships, but opposed the very necessary targetive actions on sustainable development. Although the United States makes up four percent of the world's population and produces 22 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, it's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol's call for reductions in the greenhouse gases merely underscores Federal unwillingness to address climate change. Claiming that the treaty would raise energy prices and kill five million U.S. jobs, the Administration has even raised questions about the scientific legitimacy of climate change. As British Petroleum CEO John Browne put it, ""The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted."" The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group of 6,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, warns that the Bush administration's overtly anti-science bias undercuts scientific integrity. This bias was clear when the The New York Times reported that a White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases had repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emission and global warming. The White House response: the reports were ""scientifically sound."" As Journalist and author Chris Mooney explained, the Administration relied on those energy interests who have a documented history of muddying the role that humanity plays in climate change while consciously strategizing to ""sow confusion on the issue and sway journalists."" According to a study published by Princeton professors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, the U.S. could reduce emissions to below the 1970 levels just with its current technology. ""We in fact already have everything we need to face this challenge,"" Vice President Gore has said, ""save perhaps political will. But in our democracy political will is a renewable resource."" Because the Federal government has failed to get involved internationally, state and local officials have been left alone to address the gravity of excess greenhouse gas emissions. Without Federal direction, Senator Clinton has warned, the varying standards that result from the differences in local policies could create havoc for the private sector. To make matters worse, approximately 100 high-level Administration officials who help regulate industries they once represented - as lobbyists, lawyers, or company advocates - are all part of an effort to avoid addressing global warming. (2004, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)). London's ""Guardian"" has further reported that the environmental group Greenpeace obtained documents indicating President Bush's global climate policy was heavily influenced by Exxon, Mobil and other oil companies. In briefing papers given to U.S. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky between 2001 and 2004, ""the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company's 'active involvement' in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable."" Quietly, in the background of policy change, by mid August 2004 the Administration had already rolled back more than 400 major environmental mandates, causing the protection of our nation's air, water, public land and wildlife to be severely weakened. This anti-environment spirit, reports Robert Kennedy, Jr., pervades virtually all of the Sub-secretariats today, including the Department of Agriculture, Interior, and Energy. In contrast to entering public service for the public interest, these officials are motivated by the intent to specifically subvert the very law they are now charged with enforcing. ""The current Administration,"" he says, ""has put the most insidious polluters in charge of all the agencies that are supposed to protect the American people from pollution."" One notable exception was Christine Whitman, appointed by Bush to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2002, she released a report stating that Climate Change was an urgent problem created by human activity that would quickly create other problems unless immediately addressed. A public relations crisis ensued when Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute declared ""someone should be fired"" over this. Apparently, White House Chief of Staff on Environmental Quality and former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute Philip Cooney did not see (edit) the report before it was released. President Bush publicly discounted the report by calling it a report from ""the bureaucracy."" Whitman resigned from the EPA soon after. At the Clinton Global Initiative, a summit of actions and results held by President Clinton in New York last September, Al Gore reported that some of those who benefit from unrestrained pollution from global warming also spend millions of dollars each year creating pseudo-studies that cloud the issue. This is not the first time this type of swaying from industry lobbyists has occurred. After the Surgeon General warning of the dangers of smoking, Gore noted, the tobacco industry hired 'scientific prostitutes' to argue that smoking was good for people. While such actions can be understood, he said, they are not acceptable, ""not when the fate of the earth - rather, the fate of a habitable earth for human beings -- is at stake."" He quoted muckraker Upton Sinclair who wrote more than a century ago: ""It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.""
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About the author: Elizabeth Autumn, MBA, is a freelance reporter. She covers environment and corporate governance issues. Completing her Masters in Environmental Management at Harvard University, Elizabeth also writes for Crane's Magazine, Create Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Prior to this she was a freelance producer for Fox News, in addition she worked for CBS News on the Emmy-Award winning CBS Documentary ""9-11"", The Early Show, and 60 Minutes.