World must fight carbon dioxide fast
By Bill McKibben, Special to the Los Angeles TimesAll around the world, national governments are trying to hammer out their global warming policies, preparing for the United Nations' climate-change conclave in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the end of 2009. And in too many places, the effort seems to be going nowhere. Here in Australia, for instance, the government earlier this month decided to postpone any real action for another year, citing the recession. It weakened major elements of its “emissions trading scheme,” bowing to pressure from the coal industry, which is the country's biggest exporter, and other major polluters.
May 20, 2009, 11:30 am TWN
In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration is valiantly helping to push a bill through Congress that would finally set a cap on U.S. carbon emissions. Introduced by Reps. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. it has the support of most environmental groups and represents the culmination of years of hard lobbying work. And if the leaks coming out of the committee are correct, it's watered down with lots of loopholes and compromises. These concessions are clearly necessary to win passage, but they may also limit the speed and breadth of the legislation's effect. The trouble is, physics and chemistry aren't adjusting their schedule to fit our political and economic convenience. Each week brings new accounts of crashing ice sheets and spreading droughts. The scientific journal Nature said in its April 29 cover story that a growing number of scientists agree that the carbon dioxide challenge “is even greater than had been previously thought.”
As politics gets slower, global warming speeds up. The problem isn't feckless officials. President Barack Obama has a dream team of climate specialists: Clinton administration EPA veteran Carol Browner as energy czar, Harvard physicist John Holdren as top science adviser, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as Energy secretary and Oakland, Calif., activist Van Jones as White House green jobs coordinator. And the problem isn't that environmental groups aren't working hard enough. I've never seen them work more tirelessly, with lobbying efforts in capitals around the world.
In fact, the problem is pretty simple: The environmental movement isn't big enough. It's one of the most selfless of advocacy efforts. But the movement has been sized to save whales and build national parks and force carmakers to stick catalytic converters on exhaust systems. It's nowhere near big enough to take on the fossil fuel industry, the biggest player in our global economy.