By Sophia Kirschenman
This Fourth of July, a day that represents liberty and freedom to the majority of Americans, promises to also present a newfound consciousness on climate change. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), speaker of the House of Representatives, plans to draft a bill addressing global warming by Independence Day.
On Thursday, Jan. 18, Pelosi created a select committee to focus on global warming and related issues.
This committee does not have the power to draft a bill, but it will hold hearings and suggest legislation on how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The actual bill will be drafted by a group of several committees taking into consideration the potential national effects of global warming.
Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, believes there are many topics related to climate change that need attention.
“This bill should address transportation policy broadly, not just as a fuels issue,” Haddad said. “We need to cut our [greenhouse gas] emissions from vehicles. It should also help push our electricity sector away from coal and natural gas and toward renewables.”
In 2001, President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol—an international treaty focusing on reducing the causes of climate change—under the pretext that adhering to the agreement’s conditions would limit economic growth.
But in the president’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 21, he reversed earlier convictions by stating that a response to global warming would ultimately help the economy.
“Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America’s economy running and America’s environment clean,” Bush said in the speech.
Critics, however, say that Bush’s proposal will do little to tackle the environmental problems facing the world in the coming years.
Chris Miller, a global warming campaigner for Greenpeace USA, does not believe that Bush has adequately addressed climate change.
“He has had more than six years to solve the problem, and he has not,” Miller said.
Miller also noted that unless plans are put into effect immediately, the environmental future will be grim.
“A fundamental piece of global warming is to set a cap…and have the cap met over time,” he said. “We have to keep the climate change below two degrees Celsius. We need to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2050. This is a rapidly closing window of opportunity.”
Not only has the president accepted the fact that global warming exists, but large businesses have also begun to focus on the issue.
Just prior to the State of the Union Address, corporations such as DuPont, General Electric and Caterpillar voiced their support for setting a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Daniel Press, professor and department chair of the Environmental Studies Department at UCSC, believes that the motives of corporations are far from sincere.
“A lot of industries around the world are going on record saying they’d support some kind of reduction,” Press said. “That way they can say â€˜Hey, we’re not resisting. We just want time.’ And they want a lot of time.”
Next week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created by the United Nations in 1988, will begin to produce another report on global warming. A total of 2,500 scientists will meet in Paris to collaborate on the assessment.
The 2001 IPCC report noted that the effects of climate change were imminent. It included observations that the global sea level is on the rise, plants and animals are being found closer to the poles, Arctic Sea ice has been 40 percent thinner in the late summer and beginning of autumn and glaciers are rapidly retreating.
The first section of the upcoming report is set to be released on Feb. 2 and will likely be graver in nature than previous reports.
Dialogue on climate change now exists on many levels. Not only is it being discussed on the world stage, but local governments are starting to take action in lieu of unresponsive national administrations.
California leads the country in taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the state into a partnership with the United Kingdom to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
He also announced in his State of the State Address a proposal to reduce the carbon intensity of California’s transportation fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020.
Professor Press believes it is still unclear as to whether these initiatives will be upheld.
“If federal courts allow the California rule to stand, then state efforts are going to push federal efforts a lot,” Press said. “This is going to play out on several stages; one is the courts, one is Congress, and the other is the states. It will be interesting to see which ones come out alive.”