fresh voices from the front lines of change







The climate in Washington has been heating up as lawmakers brace for the automatic spending cuts come March 1 known as the sequester. However, the only real thing heating up is our climate, and that’s where the House GOP prefers to remain silent and cold.

In reality, climate change should be taken as seriously as the sequester. Both will produce a perfect storm that has the potential to wreck our economy and devastate human needs. Every two years the Government Accountability Office compiles a list of “high risk” issues facing the federal government, and for the first time warnings on climate change were added.

Due to an increase in the number and intensity of weather disasters, the report warns that climate change is not only a threat to individuals but also the U.S. economy because we will spend more money on response efforts in the future. Already, from 2004-2011, more than $80 billion was allocated for disaster relief. The report comes as Obama names climate change one of his top priorities for his second term.

Obama emerged as the green guardian during his State of the Union address, urging Congress to develop strategies that combat climate change: “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.”

Obama, who has not backed down from climate change since his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention last summer, knows this task will not be an easy one to accomplish. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” he said. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

In clean energy and the green economy, the U.S. has had short-term and changeable policies at best. Overall, in 2008 the U.S. came in second place, behind Germany, in absolute sales of clean-energy technology products. However, when comparing product sales in proportion to G.D.P the U.S. came in 19th place; comparatively, Germany came in third, Spain in fourth, and China in sixth place.

These countries have also shied away from old energy policies and embraced new ones by setting a price on carbon emissions, implementing strong energy performance strategies, or both. Each of these countries also ratified the Kyoto Protocol; the U.S. did not. Clear evidence has been shown that countries that initially signed the protocol saw more than a 33 percent rise in green-tech patents.

The last time Congress took a serious stab at climate legislation was in 2009, on a bill that would have implemented a cap-and-trade on greenhouse emissions. The bill died at a time when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. Last week, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a similar bill that would put a price – in other words, a “carbon tax” – on carbon emissions. Here is a solution that is both sustainable and grows our economy.

Will it go anywhere? Congressional Republicans, putting politics over country, will do all they can to make sure it doesn’t. In his post-State of the Union response, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that government policies “can’t control the weather.” One thing’s for sure, if a serious government response on climate is going to happen, it won’t be done through Congress but through executive order.

Will Republicans ever learn the true ramifications of their actions? The Republican Party brand is eroding and 73 percent of voters disapprove of the job they are doing. How many more elections will Republicans have to lose before they realize that their views are not aligned with the American public?

Our democracy has been hijacked by corporate and self-interest over science, preventing meaningful action surrounding climate change. Global warming is not a theory; it’s fact. Just consider what America faced in just the past year. We saw the hottest year in history and 60 percent of America experienced a drought. Superstorm Sandy caused over $110 billion in damages and the federal government allocated more than $60 billion in disaster relief. Yet Congress remains paralyzed at a time when 52 percent of the people who elected them believe that protecting the environment should be a top priority. It is time to put an end to the manufactured crises and focus on the real storm ahead.

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