US climate action: A call for more than individual approaches

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Global climate change affects the American public with growing visibility and ferocity. As severe weather events wreak havoc on the East coast or wildfires consume hundreds of thousands of acres in the West, concern about the effects of climate change grow. In addition, the American public bears a heavy financial burden as tax dollars fund increased firefighting efforts; provide disaster relief to flooded cities and towns; and subsidize the desertified American bread basket. However, despite the growing cost to cope with the effects of climate change, national policy to address climate change is still a long way off.

Despite many bills with promising approaches being introduced in Congress, the continued dichotomy of the view of the threat of climate change between the right and the left has effectively hamstrung any efforts towards a unified climate change policy, instead requiring that for any discussion to gain traction it must be couched in terms of “energy security,”. To be sure, energy issues are more present in the public debate than was the case ten years ago. Energy security is a worthwhile goal, certainly, but also not the same as dealing with climate change.

In the absence of federal leadership, states and regions are creating their own policies. This approach is beneficial in that these nascent policies may form the basis for a full national policy, but in the interim navigating these fragmented policies can be tricky for entities whose reach spreads across multiple states. Additionally the threat of “carbon leakage” is very real, and the potential for driving business out of one region to another remains a concern for any policy maker.

Cap-and-trade in the US

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory CO2 reduction cap-and-trade program in the US. Under RGGI Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states have capped the CO2 emissions in the power sector with the goal of reducing power sector CO2 emissions 10 percent from the 2002-2004 average by 2018.

California began its own cap-and-trade program as well, with several major industrial sectors joining power as capped entities. Many other states—and hopefully the federal government— are watching intently to see how the California program plays out, as California prides itself on its trailblazing adoption of many environmental policies.

Federal cap-and-trade programs are not new in the U.S., with many people being familiar with the 1990 Clean Air Act Acid Rain Program’s SO2 trading system. This cap-and-trade system is widely considered a major success, with an Office of Management and Budget study finding benefits exceeding costs by a 40:1 ratio.

National policy on climate change

Americans, witnessing a relentless onslaught of wildfires, droughts and recent flooding are fearful of losing their freedoms and way of life. As severe weather is becoming the new normal across the U.S., the price of inaction is becoming ever clearer. The specific cost and benefits of the cap-and-trade programs are yet to be determined, and a public that traditionally looks so favorably on market-based solutions and “quick wins” remains unconvinced on the potential of a market-based cap and trade solution.

Climate change could fundamentally change how we as Americans interact with each other, the rest of the world, and our environment. As the U.S. struggles with national policy on climate change, we fall behind other countries on this important global issue. In his victory speech on election night, President Obama gave brief but equal mention to ending the dependence of the US on foreign oil and tackling climate change. Perhaps by addressing climate change in terms of energy security federal action stands a chance. Perhaps, under the emerging “new energy economy” America can reclaim its position of leadership in the world.

Ein Kommentar zu 'US climate action: A call for more than individual approaches'

  • Juliana 02-03-2013 um 15:10 To start, it appears that you are cotlnafing global warming with warmer temperatures everywhere. This isn't the case; "global warming" doesn't mean that everywhere will get warmer all the time. The theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) indicates that average global temperatures will increase. As with any average, some places will have increased temperatures, others will have lowered temperatures, and some places won't change their temperatures much.However, the problem is not only with temperatures, but how those global changes in temperature will interact to create weather. For example, we already know what happens during El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) years in Britain. Why does knowing what happens during ENSO years carry through to an indication of what might be bad for Britain? Well, ENSO is a warming of the Southern Pacific Ocean (thousands of miles away from Britain), but this heating has the predictable impact of increased rainfall (and therefore flooding) in the UK. In addition, it is highly correlated with Arctic winds during the winter, which in combination with the higher amount of precipitation means cold and snowy winters (much like Christmas 2009).Remember: global climate and local weather are two very different things. The two are related, but are more like very distant cousins than blood siblings.

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