Maybe we’re not screwed


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Rather than being cynical about the United States’ lack of progress on addressing climate change, there is some room for optimism. A series of developments both inside and outside of the government have given me a little hope.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., unveiled a climate-change bill on Sept. 30, aptly titled “The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” (you have to take a moment to appreciate that title). The bill aims to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by establishing a cap-and-trade system and make investment in renewable energy and clean-energy technologies. Kerry and Boxer’s bill sets a carbon-emissions reduction target of 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Many scientists consider this the minimum reduction level needed to avoid a disastrous increase in the Earth’s temperature.

The bill has a long road ahead of it until final passage. It’ll have to make its way through committee, to the Senate floor, and then be reconciled with the House’s climate-change bill, which Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, voted for this summer. In short, lots of sausage-making. Nonetheless, the process will hopefully conclude in President Obama signing a climate-change bill.

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t seem to be waiting on the legislative process, though. The same day Kerry and Boxer unveiled their climate-change legislation, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced a proposal that would regulate large facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year.

The EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases comes from a 2007 Supreme Court case, in which the court held that the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions. The ruling was largely ignored by the Bush administration, but the EPA under Jackson appears ready to be more assertive on this issue.

The timing of the EPA’s announcement — on the same day as Kerry and Boxer’s — was no coincidence. The message is a simple but a clear one: The government will regulate and reduce carbon emissions some way or another, and those opposed need to accept this reality.

And finally, a few large U.S. companies have left the Chamber of Commerce completely or resigned from its board in protest over the chamber’s position on climate change.

Why did they do this? Well, these companies need to appropriately plan and invest in the future to maintain competitiveness and need to protect their brand images. Nike, Apple, and Pacific Gas and Electric are just a few large companies supporting climate-change legislation. I personally would think twice about buying my next iPod — and I imagine some of you would do the same — if they didn’t support the legislation.

We shouldn’t infer or conflate all of this to mean too much. But I do think we see the ground moving on this issue. And by in large, it’s young people who are changing perceptions in society.

After all, what individual under 30 doesn’t believe in the science of global warming?

I’m a naturally optimistic person, so I do see the United States passing legislation that addresses climate change. We’ll move on very soon from debates about health care onto debates about climate change. Those debates will probably be very partisan and arouse fears and the American public’s worst sentiments.

But don’t discount the role you can play in this debate. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is likely to oppose the climate change legislation in the Senate. He needs to hear what you think about the bill.

With efforts from young people, I’m hopeful these encouraging signs will continue.

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