On the Climate Bill Green Groups Mustn't Surrender When the Battle is Just Starting


photo: Greg via flickr

While most of the big name environmental groups have praised the passage of the American Clean Energy & Security Act, there have been few notable and courageous exceptions such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth who have have spoken out and refused to participate in all the self-congratulatory "it's a good first step" backslapping. In a a new opinion piece by Michael Renner of Worldwatch jumps into the fray on the side of science. He really nails it in describing the the situation and the failure of the notion that we will likely be ever able to strengthen ACES:Is Todd Stern Off His Rocker?
First up is the weakness of the United States internationally. It seemed like a great thing when Todd Stern was appointed to be US climate change envoy. He certainly has the credentials to do the job, but considering that he's not only come out saying that the 40% reductions in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 that science says is required to prevent catastrophic temperature rise is politically "not feasible", but also that they're not necessary.

Not necessary? With due respect to a man with more degrees than myself, surely he's off his rocker. The clear message from climate change scientists is that these sort of emissions cuts (if not deeper ones) are very much necessary.

ACES Proposes Reductions from 2005 Levels, Not the Normal 1990
Renner then goes on to point out something that is likely to be easily glossed over by much of the public. ACES pegs all the emissions reductions to 2005 levels instead of the internationally used 1990 levels. This allows it to look like the US is making much bigger cuts. I've said this before, but rather than making 17% reductions based on the international levels (which would still be inadequate), compared to other nation's commitments, ACES proposes just 4% cuts.

That's not a first start. That's a joke, a mockery of science.

Rich Countries Evading Responsibility
But on a philosophical and operational level is where Renner really is uncommonly clear:

Rich countries are evading their historical responsibility for the bulk of emissions. Instead of strong domestic action, "offsets" are being presented as the great savior - asking poorer nations to shoulder the burden that wealthy countries are not prepared to bear themselves. From a national perspective, offsets may be an option; from a global perspective, they amount to a rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.

On why we in the green community have to keep up the pressure,

The ultimate outcome of any process is the product of ideas and proposals put forward by different actors, as well as the relative power of these actors. Environmental groups that fail to turn up the pressure are effectively narrowing the scope of what is politically possible. It is like waving a white flag while the battle is still raging.

Some may honestly feel that there is no other way - that status quo forces in government and the corporate world are too powerful. But there's also an inconvenient truth. Not rocking the boat often equals respectability in mainstream opinion for environmental organizations. Having access to the corridors of power, whether in Washington, Brussels, or other world capitals, gives the appearance of influence and importance - and surely helps in securing future funding.


This Isn't About Not Letting the Perfect Outweigh the Good
This is all framed in the context of groups following the notion of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. But what I want everyone to think about is that based on the version of ACES passed by the House this isn't about the good versus the perfect. It's about working to make the pathetic merely acceptable. There's no good anywhere to be seen, still less perfect.

Which is why Renner's call to environmentalists to get back to the grassroots and build up public outcry around ACES, and place public pressure on politicians to make the bill substantially stronger, is so important.

Read all of Renner's piece, it's worth it: Turn Up the Heat in the Climate Battle
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