On Friday, a group of 20 environmental groups issued a statement saying that they are "encouraged" by the progress being made by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in the Senators' efforts to pass landmark climate and energy legislation. The statement could be viewed as an ominous warning that some Big Green groups are prepared to follow the same course that they did during the debate over Waxman-Markey, the House climate and energy bill that passed last year--compromise early and often to get a bill, seemingly any bill, passed. The statement reads:
"Their stated goal and commitment to a 17 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 represents the leadership needed by the U.S. Senate to create jobs, increase energy security, reduce carbon pollution and protect public health Legislative details are important, and are not settled yet, and we will be working closely with the senators, their staffs and others to make sure these details achieve the goals."
A 17 reduction in greenhouse gases is equal to the short-term target of Waxman-Markey, roughly 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. In comparison, the EU has a goal of 20 percent by 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading body on climate research and its most authoritative voice, has said that developed countries must reduce their carbon pollution by at least 25-40 percent by 2020 if the world is to have any chance at keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
So why are these groups, which are supposed to protect the climate and not play politics, already accepting weak short-term targets before the debate has even begun? Clearly, election year politics and a collective weak hand has played a role in their calculus.
Another theory on why they are caving so early comes from The Nation's Johann Hari, whose explosive piece "The Wrong Kind of Green" hypothesized that the influence of corporate money has damaged the credibility of many of the US's biggest green groups.
Why did America's leading environmental groups jet to Copenhagen and lobby for policies that will lead to the faster death of the rainforests--and runaway global warming? Why are their lobbyists on Capitol Hill dismissing the only real solutions to climate change as "unworkable" and "unrealistic," as though they were just another sooty tentacle of Big Coal?
He goes on to explain the importance of getting a strong short-term target, something the Senate bill lacks:
Beyond 2 degrees, the chances of any stabilization at the hotter level begin to vanish, because the earth's natural processes begin to break down. The huge amounts of methane stored in the Arctic permafrost are belched into the atmosphere, causing more warming. The moist rainforests begin to dry out and burn down, releasing all the carbon they store into the air, and causing more warming. These are "tipping points": after them, we can't go back to the climate in which civilization evolved.
So in an age of global warming, the old idea of conservation--that you preserve one rolling patch of land, alone and inviolate--makes no sense. If the biosphere is collapsing all around you, you can't ring-fence one lush stretch of greenery and protect it: it too will die.