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Overcoming climate-change inertia


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Stop what you’re doing.

Take a second to take a deep breath and collect your thoughts.

It’s now up to you to save the world. The U.S. Senate has just conscripted your talent and your intellect in the fight against climate change.

We’ve been waiting for almost a year for the Senate to introduce climate-change legislation. The bill the House passed last summer was far from perfect, but it would create an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that would enable the country to gradually reduce its carbon emissions.

When the measure moved to the Senate, everyone knew it would be a tough slog. Climate change is a challenging and complex issue; the politics and the policy are difficult to navigate. And, as the debate over health-care reform illuminated to us all, we live in an extremely partisan environment in which division grows by the day.

But there was still reason to be optimistic. A tri-partisan group of senators had been working for months to write a bill. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Liebermann, I-Conn., were scheduled to unveil their much-anticipated climate change legislation today. At long last, we were one step closer toward an actual law. One step closer toward the United States joining the international community in addressing climate change.

Yet, as of Sunday, those efforts to introduce legislation in the Senate have fallen apart. Graham has withdrawn his support for a bill. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to fast-track immigration-reform legislation instead of placing the climate bill on the Senate’s next to-do list, Graham balked. If Graham continues to abstain, it is highly unlikely we’ll see the Senate take up the measure this year.

So once again we find ourselves in a situation in which we are all waiting and watching the Senate. But unlike health care or, say, financial-regulation reform, we can’t afford to wait. And instead of waiting, it’s your turn to try.

I don’t know if the Senate will be able to get its act together and pass a climate bill. I do know, however, that there are things that each and every one of us can do to address climate change. Many are already tackling this problem in communities and on college campuses all across the country.

And despite those who deny that climate change poses a threat, if we don’t change some things about human activity in a fundamental way, we’ll pay a horrific price.

When we begin to think about it, the most important and creative solutions have happened and are happening at the local level. The University of Iowa is listed in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges. The UI Office of Sustainability has worked to make sustainability a central priority in all aspects of what the university does. And Iowa City has enacted a series of important environmental initiatives.

In Seattle, the City Council is considering whether to make a commitment to be carbon neutral. Seattle would be the first American carbon-neutral city, an important precedent in the green economy. Organizations such as the Campus Climate Challenge are leading efforts to advocate for clean energy policies at colleges.

The truth is that at the local, state, and regional level, there are innumerable efforts aimed at addressing climate challenge. Tens of thousands of citizens, most in small — and some in fairly significant ways — are engaged in this fight.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an environmentalist or you don’t find yourself having impassioned conversations about conservation or renewable energy, this fight is still yours. The magnitude of the problem suggests it, and the Senate just drafted you.

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