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Friday, November 14, 2008

Two Crises, No Waiting

Not having the world's fastest connection, I use Sage for Firefox to keep up on news headlines. Click the feed, wait a second, and watch the headlines come up without all the extra ads and widgets and scripts. Beautiful. One of the feeds I check fairly regularly is Yahoo: Climate Change. I like being able to check news by issue, which is why I also subscribe to feeds created by Google News searches, as well.

So I clicked on my climate change feed and I came across two headlines, one above the other. It's too early to start drinking, so I guess I'll write about them. First is a Bloomberg Story, "Obama to Act Quickly on Global Warming in 2009."

President-elect Barack Obama will act quickly on a campaign promise to address climate change upon taking office in January, his environment adviser said.

Obama will borrow from initiatives in place in Europe and some U.S. states to control heat-trapping emissions, Jason Grumet said today in Washington. While he avoided talk of new policies today, the adviser last month said Obama may continue international climate negotiations endorsed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and others.

We really should start calling this the "climate emergency" or "climate crisis," so it's good to see that we'll finally have a president who takes it seriously. This is something that needs to be addressed yesterday.

But there were two stories. The next was the one that made me consider drinking -- Associated Press's "Bingaman: Global warming on Congress' back burner."

Congress will not act until 2010 on a bill to limit the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming despite President-elect Obama's declaration that he will move quickly to address climate change, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee predicted Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said that while every effort should be made to cap greenhouse gases, the economic crisis, the transition to a new administration and the complexity of setting up a nationwide market for carbon pollution permits preclude acting in 2009.

"The reality is, it may take more than the first year to get it all done," Bingaman told a carbon markets conference here.

You know, in all the post-election celebrating, I forgot just how badly Democratic congressional leadership sucks. They were ready to roll over every time Bush wanted to do something stupid and now they feel the need to put the brakes on the necessary.

Bingaman argues that the economy is job one. I argue that humans have binary minds and can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think the US government is able to do more than one thing at a time, mostly because it has -- every day since the founding of the nation. Have we all suffered some sort of massive head wound recently? Besides, if you want to avoid a guaranteed future economic crisis, you get on the ball now. Insurers estimate that, if left unchecked, dealing with the consequences of global warming will cost $150 billion a year within ten years, with the insurance industry alone taking a $30-40 billion annual hit. The world's second largest insurer, Swiss Re, estimates the economic impact would be "the equivalent of one World Trade Center attack annually."

And dealing with this climate emergency would have economic benefits in itself. What we're talking about is a huge investment in our infrastructure, among other things, and this would not only be a massive de facto jobs program, but a catalyst to the creation of new markets and new industries.

"Economists across the spectrum -- including Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Summers -- agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a quick and sustainable way," wrote Al Gore in a New York Times op-ed last sunday. "Many also agree that our economy will fall behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil."

In May, six Nobel prize winners, thirty-one National Academy of Sciences members, and one hundred members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others, had basically the same thing to say.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS):

More than 1,700 of the nation's most prominent scientists and economists today released a joint statement... [that] stresses that implementing policies to achieve swift and substantial cuts is both economically sound and necessary to limit the worst consequences of climate change.

"There is a strong consensus that we must do something about reducing the emissions that cause global warming," said James McCarthy, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and one of the statement's authors. "The debate right now is about how much we need to cut. The fact that so many scientists and economists have spoken out and signed this letter should give policymakers the confidence that we can avert serious adverse climate impacts."

"The statement notes that acting quickly to cut global warming pollution would be the most cost-effective way to limit climate change," the UCS said. "If the United States delays taking action, future cuts would have to more drastic and would be much more expensive. Those costs would come in addition to the increased cost of adapting to more climate change. Conversely, the statement says smart reduction strategies would allow the economy to grow, generate new domestic jobs, protect public health, and strengthen energy security."

So, dealing with climate change now is dealing with the economy now. And it's also dealing with coming economic problems before they happen. Sen. Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, apparently doesn't know any of this. You kind of think he should.

To go back to the human ability to walk and chew gum simultaneously, a spokesperson for the Obama transition team has made it clear that this will be the new President's expectation of congress. "[W]e will have the opportunity to move quickly because there has been a profound amount of knowledge generated," Jason Grumet is quoted as saying in the Bloomberg piece. "My suggestion to all of you is to enjoy the holiday season, spend some time with your family and friends and rest up because I think it's going to be a very, very busy 2009."

If any congress critters need to practice chewing gum and walking at once, maybe they should get started. From now on, it seems that's going to be part of the job description.


1 comment:

timethief said...

Global warming will have a broad and devastating impact on California's economy over the next century, according to a report released Thursday.

Roads and bridges, the water supply, agriculture, public health and even winter skiing all will be affected by global climate change
, said the report by University of California-Berkeley agricultural and resource economics professors David Roland-Holst and Fredrich Kahrl.

The report said damage could reach many billions of dollars per year. In real estate alone, up to $2.5 trillion of the state's $4 trillion worth of homes and other buildings are at risk from rising sea levels, wildfires and other extreme weather events occurring as the world gets warmer, it said.

The 127-page report was funded by the nonprofit Next 10 foundation that studies California's future and the intersection of the economy and the environment.

This is the first time a major academic institution has attempted to put a price tag on the potential climate damage in California between now and the year 2100, the researchers said.

In an interview, Roland-Holst said that despite the staggering numbers, he didn't want his research to be seen as a doomsday report.

"It's not Chicken Little. It is a wake-up call," he said. "The estimates at the moment have a lot of uncertainty, but we really have to take this seriously."

Article Continues:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday ordered preparations for rising sea levels from global warming
, a startling prospect for the most populous U.S. state with a Pacific Ocean coastline stretching more than 800 miles.

Recorded sea levels rose 7 inches during the 20th century in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger said in the executive order for study of how much more the sea could rise, what other consequences of global warming were coming and how the state should react.

California is considered the environmental vanguard of government in the United States, with its own standards for car pollution and a law to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas contributing to global warming.

"The longer that California delays planning and adapting to sea level rise the more expensive and difficult adaptation will be," Schwarzenegger said, ordering a report by the end of 2010.

Congress needs to be butt kicked into reality. The time to create a green economy and the jobs that will issue from it is NOW.