Last week, the Senate voted down legislation designed to restrict carbon dioxide emissions and to begin to address the problem of global warming by a vote of 55 to 43.
“Big surprise,” you might say. Despite the unexpectedly high number of votes in favor of the bill, the defeat is a reminder that the federal government led by the Bush Administration is becoming infamous for its lackluster environmental record, to say the least — especially with regard to energy and global warming issues. Institutions such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have acknowledged that both temperatures and rates of greenhouse gas emissions are rising, and with increasingly significant effects. For example, in Connecticut, increased temperatures have led to such high levels of ozone at the ground level — where it acts as a pollutant — that, according to the EPA, not a single region in the state measures up to national standards of air quality. Yet these issues haven’t been addressed since 2001, when Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol and pulled America out of this important international climate treaty. Why would they be addressed now?
Despite the inaction of the administration, considerable momentum is gathering in support of progressive climate and energy policies in what some may consider unlikely places — state legislatures and the statehouses — in a new spin on the classic maxim, “think globally, act locally.”
An Oct. 28 article in The New York Times described states as “the driving force in efforts to combat global warming,” reporting that at least 25 have taken action to address the issue, including traditionally conservative states such as Texas and Nevada. One way or another, it seems, American citizens and their representatives are finding a way to fill the gap in global warming and energy policy created by the current administration.
In the Northeast, especially, the movement has flourished. In August 2001, the New England Governors and the East Canadian Premiers agreed to work together to create state-based plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet shared reductions targets. Their agreement has spurred a movement that is quickly becoming one of the biggest the region has seen in decades, giving rise to an expansive coalition of schools and student groups, environmental organizations, health professionals, religious groups, and green energy providers who are dedicated to guaranteeing that our governors follow through on their promises. This summer, the six major student environmental networks in the Northeast joined forces to work with this growing movement more effectively and encourage students to support concrete plans to reduce our state emissions.
This student meta-network, The Climate Campaign, is currently working in Connecticut with a broad coalition of citizens to persuade Governor Rowland to create a strong Climate Change Action Plan that will include commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and 75 to 85 percent lower than the 1990 levels in the long-term; for more information visit climatecampaign.org. But we believe the means by which we reach these targets are just as important as the goals themselves; the plan should include provisions for controlling urban sprawl, monitoring and reporting carbon dioxide emissions, and increasing the use of renewable energy sources — without resorting to nuclear power, which in the end is merely substituting one problem for another.
Opponents of climate change policy often assert that the costs of implementing such plans are too detrimental to the economy to merit full consideration, an especially powerful argument during times of economic recession. Contrary to those arguments, there are clear economic advantages (yes, advantages) of enacting global warming legislation. For example, a State Climate Action Plan should include ways to improve energy efficiency, from the sector-wide level to a state’s fleet of vehicles. Improved energy efficiency translates into improved economic efficiency. In addition, the creation and expansion of a viable renewable energy sector will create new jobs and foster technological innovation. More than just a framework to reduce emissions, the Climate Change Action Plan will be the first step to a more sustainable, responsible and ecologically sound society.
This week is a region-wide Week of Action for the Climate Campaign — a collective push to raise awareness and ensure the further development of legislation that will follow through on our governors’ commitments. Beyond the federal government’s discouraging record when it comes to global warming is a local, regional and national movement brimming with energy and ready to make policies that address global warming a reality.