Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011
Congress requested that the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences examine the problem of climate change and make recommendations for action. The report, "America's Climate Choices," to no one's surprise, reaffirmed anthropogenic climate change and found that a price on carbon is necessary. Yet House Speaker John Boehner continues to do nothing and Texas Rep. Joe Barton, senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, dismissed the report out of hand. While Congress dithers and denies, the Obama Administration, to a large degree, is doing the same. Yes, there have been some positive steps, but a comprehensive energy plan to move us away from fossil fuels does not carry the support of the White House, rhetorically or substantively.
Two editorials this week, from the LA Times and the Washington Post, warn of the dangers of inaction. The Times' editorial is particularly blistering toward the administration, accusing the it of ignoring environmentalists as the climate worsens and the 2012 election nears.
From the LA Times:
In the calculus of presidential politics, environmentalists don't much matter in 2012. The economy is the top subject on Americans' minds, and Obama no doubt figures he can blunt criticism of his regulatory record and maybe corral some independent voters by cutting smokestack industries a little slack. Never mind that the economic calculus doesn't pencil out; according to EPA estimates, the rule on industrial boilers would cost polluters $1.4 billion a year, but the value of its health benefits would range from $22 billion to $54 billion. And never mind that the rule would prevent up to 6,500 premature deaths each year.
The Washington Post takes aim at deniers like Barton, who is in a real position of power when it comes to energy policy. But the Administration continues to allow politicians like Barton to practice obfuscation while their pockets grow fatter from the contributions of fossil fuel interests.
Climate-change deniers, in other words, are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three. And their recalcitrance is dangerous, the report makes clear, because the longer the nation waits to respond to climate change, the more catastrophic the planetary damage is likely to be -- and the more drastic the needed response.
That response, the panel concluded, ought to include not only a strong policy to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also a plan to begin adapting to climate change, some amount of which is already inevitable; more research into climate science and alternative energies; and active engagement in international efforts to control climate change. Given the global nature of the problem, the report says, U.S. action can't be sufficient, but "strong U.S. emission efforts will enhance our ability to influence other countries to do the same."
What happens when Congress asks a question and gets an answer it doesn't like? The response from Texas Rep. Joe Barton, senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, provides a clue. "I see nothing substantive in this report that adds to the knowledge base necessary to make an informed decision about what steps -- if any -- should be taken to address climate change," Mr. Barton told the New York Times.
We need more of this sort of attention from editorial pages and the news divisions. There is a chasm between the public's understanding of climate change and the speed of it, a gap that the news media and the White House need to close. The LA Times and the Washington Post should be applauded for sounding the alarm.