by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 6, 2009
CONGRESS FIDDLES WHILE THE PLANET BURNS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here in Vermont, we take it as a given that the weather can be extreme. But after a June that saw Seattle-like weather, with only a handful of rain-free days and precipitation that was double the norm, I'm beginning to doubt it's an aberration.
Last summer, we had a similar six-week stretch with so much rain that it almost wiped out the tomatoes and peppers in the gardens. We've seen more torrential downpours and flash flooding in recent years too.
This is not normal Vermont weather. And yes, climate change is to blame.
A White House study released last month found that climate change has already caused "visible impacts" in the United States and that greenhouse-gas emissions are "primarily" responsible for global warming.
"The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt," the report said.
The United States is the biggest per capita emitter of the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions are rising, according to the White House study. Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 2 degrees in the Northeast, and might rise more rapidly - between 4 and 11 degrees - before 2100 if global emissions are not cut.
If temperatures continue to rise, New England could face warmer winters and the possible end of some of our most famous activities - maple sugaring, skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. The prime area for maple production could shift northward into Quebec, and New England's winter tourism industry would be devastated.
If nothing is done, it won't be long before we Vermonters are living in a very different state. One with hotter summers with more 90 degree days. Heavier rainstorms with more flash flooding and the crop and property damage that goes with it. Warmer winters with more sleet and freezing rain and less snow. The bright colors of autumn's foliage season gone as maple trees die from the stress of pollution, insects and warmer temperatures.
"It's not too late to act," said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the 13 federal agencies involved in preparing the climate report. "Human-induced climate change is a reality, not only in remote polar regions (and) in small tropical islands, but every place around the country - in our own backyards."
But unfortunately, Congress is still dawdling on climate change. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), which narrowly passed the U.S. House last week, was supposedly designed to address climate change issues and boost the use of renewable, alternative sources of energy.
Don't believe it. This bill was largely written by corporate lobbyists and, as you might expect, it is relatively toothless.
Start with the goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. It calls for an 80 percent cut by 2050, which sounds good, but the baseline is 2005, rather than 1990 as is called for in other nations' proposals. Does this make a difference? It certainly does, especially since carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose from 5.8-billion tons to 7-billion tons between 1990 and 2005.
The biofuels industry exacted a promise that the federal government will not investigate environmental impacts. The farm industry got 2 billion tons of carbon offsets for the residue left in fields after corn or other crops are harvested. Big coal got a concession to keep the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulating coal-burning power stations by modifying the federal Clean Air Act. The nuclear industry got loan guarantees for new reactors.
Perhaps the biggest compromise by the House involved the near total elimination of a plan by the Obama Administration to sell pollution permits and raise more than $600 billion over a decade. Instead, about 85 percent of the permits will be given away rather than sold. In other words, industry can continue to pollute a public resource - our planet's atmosphere - without public compensation.
The most conclusive sign that ACES is a sham is that numerous environmental groups - including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club - actively opposed it. Even worse, the bill is certain to be watered down further when the Senate gets its hands on it.
Despite the best intentions of those in Congress who recognize the environmental catastrophe looming for our planet, apparently the best we can hope for to address climate change is a hopelessly compromised bill that will do little to address the problem. How little? ACES will allow atmospheric carbon to increase to more than 450 parts per million, far more than the 350 parts per million level that leading scientists say must be reached, and soon, to combat the climate crisis.
Granted, ACES may seem like a victory, considering how hard the Bush Administration and the Republican Party tried to undermine efforts to address climate change for most of this decade. But the world's most powerful and innovative nation can do a lot better than this.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.