Photo via Frugal Cafe
Well, the celebration was short-lived. There were some pretty big headlines that managed to poke their way through the 24/7 Michael Jackson death coverage announcing the passage of an "historic climate bill" (I happened to write one of them). It led the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Politico, and a couple other outlets--but predictably, the victory was destined to be bittersweet. And the Europeans didn't even wait until the bill was officially passed before they came out to announce they "demand more" from the US. Green Inc reports that:
Andreas Carlgren, the Swedish minister for the environment, told journalists on Friday that passage of the Waxman-Markey bill would be significant, but added that American emissions reduction targets still risked falling far short of what would be needed to reach a global deal at United Nations negotiations in December in Copenhagen.And he was just getting warmed up there. He went on:
"We expect more, we demand more," he said of the European position toward wealthy countries — including the United States — and emissions reduction. "We need the right global targets and objectives for the long term in line with science," he said, adding that such targets were needed to apply "the right pressure to make sure we have sufficient emissions reductions," he said.Carlgren's voice takes on an additional authority, too--Sweden takes the helm of the EU's revolving presidency until December, which just so happens to be when the Copenhagen climate talks are set to take place. He'll essentially be the leading environmental minister for Europe during that time. So.
Is He Right?
In a word, yes. As my colleague Matthew McDermott points out in a recent post, the emissions targets the freshly passed climate bill sets aren't even close to those that scientists say are necessary to fight climate change in a meaningful manner. Which is certainly disappointing, to say the least. Consider the following:
Mr. Carlgren said an offer by Europeans to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent over 1990 levels by 2020 was the E.U.'s main "tool to put pressure on other parties in the world." Other nations should "follow us up to more ambitious targets," he said.As for the US; "Under the Waxman-Markey bill, the United States would reduce emissions by about 4 percent over 1990 levels over the same time period." Seems pretty pitiful by comparison--and takes a bit of the fizzle out of them party poppers.
It's the best that we can do right now. It shouldn't be, but it is. All these recent proclamations of the bill's failure seem to ignore one crucial element: political feasibility. Such luminaries and heavyweight green groups as James Hansen, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth have flat out condemned the climate bill for being too weak in its emissions targets, making too many concessions to the coal industry, and so on. Which is all well and fine--the bill should no doubt be stronger--but which realistic alternative do they suggest?
Stubbornly give up on passing a climate bill this session, hope that a Democratic majority is maintained or strengthened before the next go round and that Congress becomes better educated on climate issues, and accepts a more ambitious bill? Seems unlikely, or at least quite a gamble. Try to push a straight up carbon tax, as Hansen is in favor of? Again, too politically outlandish given the current landscape.
We still have too-powerful coal and oil lobbies. We still have Democrats who are beholden to coal, heavy industry, and agricultural interests in one way or another, whose sense of climate change's severity doesn't trump a desire to risk endangering a reelection bid. We still have an entire party (guess which one) that for the most part seems hellbent on disregarding global warming at best, and proclaiming it a hoax and mocking it at worst. This is elementary stuff. Our political culture seemed to me hardly ready to accept even the 'baby steps' European leaders lambast us for taking with this bill.
Which is why I nonetheless view the bill's passage as a victory--perhaps a slightly embarrassing one, but it's something of a triumph considering the obstacles overcome. For the US, passing this bill is indeed a solid, and yes, very tiny step in the right direction. Call me cynical, but I think that's all we could muster at the moment.