CommunityThe Bullpen

Copenhagen Conference Begins With Renewed Momentum

Leaders from 192 nations around the world have converged on Scandanavia for the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, they will attempt to reach agreement on a global climate change treaty, which looked all but dead a couple months ago, but is now revived.

The planned attendance of the leaders and pledges to curb emissions by all the top emitters — led by China, the United States, Russia and India — have raised hopes for an accord after sluggish negotiations in the past two years.

“Copenhagen is already a turning point in the international response to climate change,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

South Africa added new impetus on the eve of the event, saying on Sunday it would cut its carbon emissions to 34 percent below expected levels by 2020, if rich countries furnished financial and technological help.

56 newspapers in 45 countries published a joint editorial calling for joint cooperation to limit the rise of CO2 gases in the atmosphere and transfer to a clean energy future. In a separate editorial, Paul Krugman argues that this would be affordable:

As a recent study by McKinsey & Company showed, there are many ways to reduce emissions at relatively low cost: improved insulation; more efficient appliances; more fuel-efficient cars and trucks; greater use of solar, wind and nuclear power; and much, much more. And you can be sure that given the right incentives, people would find many tricks the study missed.

The truth is that conservatives who predict economic doom if we try to fight climate change are betraying their own principles. They claim to believe that capitalism is infinitely adaptable, that the magic of the marketplace can deal with any problem. But for some reason they insist that cap and trade — a system specifically designed to bring the power of market incentives to bear on environmental problems — can’t work […]

The acid rain controversy of the 1980s was in many respects a dress rehearsal for today’s fight over climate change. Then as now, right-wing ideologues denied the science. Then as now, industry groups claimed that any attempt to limit emissions would inflict grievous economic harm.

But in 1990 the United States went ahead anyway with a cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide. And guess what. It worked, delivering a sharp reduction in pollution at lower-than-predicted cost.

Getting all the different actors to cooperate and reach a deal that meets all their interests is a daunting challenge. But while the action is taking place in Copenhagen, the most important development may be happening back in Washington, as the EPA is about to release an endangerment finding for CO2:

Officials gather in Copenhagen this week for an international climate summit, but business leaders are focusing even more on Washington, where the Obama administration is expected as early as Monday to formally declare carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant.

An “endangerment” finding by the Environmental Protection Agency could pave the way for the government to require businesses that emit carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to make costly changes in machinery to reduce emissions — even if Congress doesn’t pass pending climate-change legislation. EPA action to regulate emissions could affect the U.S. economy more directly, and more quickly, than any global deal inked in the Danish capital, where no binding agreement is expected.

Many business groups are opposed to EPA efforts to curb a gas as ubiquitous as carbon dioxide.

An EPA endangerment finding “could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement. “The devil will be in the details, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure we don’t stifle our economic recovery,” he said, noting that the group supports federal legislation.

The EPA finding has always been the hammer designed to force Congress to act. If the Chamber of Commerce is so freaked out about it, they have a choice – work to find a legislative solution. And if resistance to a bill breaks, one of the largest emitters in the world would be on a path to reducing their emissions, setting a model for other countries to follow.

Ultimately, that legislative solution is a must – changing light bulbs alone isn’t going to cut it.

December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change. The country’s last real moral and social revolution was set in motion by the civil rights movement. And in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn’t ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider “10 Ways to Go Integrated” at their convenience.

Green gestures we have in abundance in America. Green political action, not so much. And the gestures (“Look honey, another Vanity Fair Green Issue!”) lure us into believing that broad change is happening when the data shows that it isn’t. Despite all our talk about washing clothes in cold water, we aren’t making much of a difference […]

We all got into this mess together. And now, with treaty talks underway internationally and Congress stalled at home, we need to act accordingly. Don’t spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don’t take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: “What are the 10 green statutes you’re working on to save the planet, Senator?”

That work continues today in Copenhagen.

UPDATE: Barack Obama and Al Gore will meet today in the White House, presumably to discuss Copenhagen developments.

Previous post

Blood Equity: NFL Pro Football Players - Movie Night Preview

Next post

Give the Gift of Compassion. It Comes from your Heart...Not From China

David Dayen

David Dayen

1 Comment