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The War on Climate Change

Opinion | November 23, 2009

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration, in conjunction with Congress, has been debating the merits of a military surge in Afghanistan. However, our efforts and attention are better served on a different front. While the dangers of Afghanistan can potentially affect millions, climate change is a global issue that carries ramifications for billions.

With the support of fellow allies, the United States must commence a “War on Climate Change.” As in any war, the US and fellow allies must be willing to concede short-term losses for long-term benefits. The environmental and economic benefits over time clearly outweigh any short-term losses. The task of uniting both the country and the world around lasting environmental legislation will be challenging, but the alternative is too dangerous.

Ironically, the best person to turn to with regards to dealing with a global threat would be former Vice President Dick Cheney. In office, Cheney instituted a policy known as the One Percent Doctrine. The plan stated that if there was a 1% chance of a terrorist threat, “we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

The same logic must be carried over to policies involving climate change. While there is no universal consensus with regards to climate change, the overwhelming majority of evidence indicates that increases in greenhouse gases have gradually increased the global temperature in the past century. It is simply better to be safe than sorry in an effort to prevent our glaciers from melting and our sea levels from rising.

The United States must begin the War on Climate Change domestically. In order to attain credibility in the eyes of the world, Americans must prove their serious intentions on the matter. Unfortunately, Congress has stalled on the issue of climate change. Republicans, that are and remain proponents of the One Percent Doctrine, continue to drag their feet on the issue of climate change. Last spring, Republican Minority leader John Boehner went so far as to comment, “Calling carbon dioxide dangerous is almost comical.” Alongside the Republicans, many Democrats are displaying great hesitation in enacting any environmental legislation for fear of high costs. Many “blue dog” Democrats opt for a more “business-friendly” manner in dealing with this current problem.

What are the results of this political football game? A relatively weak Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill that has not and probably will not get passed in the Senate. The legislation implements a system of greenhouse gas permits that allows the market to reduce pollution instead of tight regulations. In addition, the government can control the amount of pollution as it determines the amount of permits. However, significant compromises in the House have allowed the cuts in CO2 by 2020 to drop a mediocre 17%. For a country that produces as much as 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions, the long term cuts fall well short of what is needed. Yet despite these major compromises, the Senate has failed in six months to even bring the issue to a vote.

Although Americans pay thousands of dollars in taxes a year to support an ambitious US foreign policy agenda, conservative lawmakers are not willing to favor a climate bill that raises taxes $175 a year. While preaching fiscal sanity, these conservative lawmakers ignore the fact that cap-and-trade would save Americans money in the long run by shielding them from spikes in oil prices.

However, there is hope for the American people. We are witnessing a grassroots call to action by state and business leaders, unprecedented in nature. Over half of the United States economy is under a mandatory reduction scheme. Despite federal inaction, there have been regional actions like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord (MGGA), and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). In addition, over a 1,000 mayors nationwide have signed an agreement with the hope of making cities greener and more energy efficient. Capitol Hill is completely disconnected from both the reality of climate change and the public mood.

The greatest challenge facing the United States is that of creating global cooperation on climate change. America must be part of a worldwide commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The task of leadership will prove especially difficult for Uncle Sam, as the US was the only country in the world that failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. However, the greatest test to global action is the divide between industrialized and developing countries, who were originally treated leniently but now face pressure. China and India, current and future leaders in Co2 emissions, have already indicated that they will not ratify any agreement with the establishment of these targets.   While Senator John Kerry has advocated for some type of punishment for countries that do not participate an agreement, this view is simply short sighted. Any import or tax on China or India would hurt the US and global economy more than the developing countries themselves. America must pave the way by proposing ambitious standards, but must also work with these developing countries to implement a system that is both fair and effective.

While a War on Climate Change may be unrealistic, it is indeed necessary. We are facing a global threat. The United States must create unity both domestically and internationally to deter this threat. Climate change is an issue that is too important for compromise and must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. President Obama has told us that he is a different type of leader; the time has come for him to prove it.