Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Unsustainable Status Quo

Last week, we couldn't help but notice some green shoots. And really, we needed to notice them. Amid all the troubling news on climate change, it can be easy to fall into a mental trap of nihilism and despair.

Fortunately, we have another green shoot to examine this week. Remember when President Obama agreed to take executive action on climate change back in June? We will soon begin seeing the results of that as the ENDA regulatory agenda for 2014 is rolled out.

Between now and September 2014 the EPA aims to finalize its rules for capping greenhouse gas emissions from existing natural gas and coal-fired plants, which together produce a whopping 40 percent of the United States' carbon emissions and one-third of its heat-trapping gases. Controlling smokestacks emissions is critical to addressing climate change, but carbon legislation is a non-starter, even in the Democratically controlled Senate. The EPA rules are bound to be challenged in court and they'll invariably fuel allegations that Obama—and his vulnerable Democratic allies on Capitol Hill—are waging a war on coal. But, presuming they survive, they could be historic.

While the caps for existing plants have yet to take shape, the White House recently called for limiting new coal-fired plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour—60 percent less than the average coal-powered plant releases—and gas-power plants to 1,000 pounds.

We can only hope this is the beginning. After all, it must be. We face disastrous consequences if we don't get serious about lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. And really, we're already starting to see the consequences materialize now.

Unfortunately, this is when we must pivot back to the bad news. While the new EPA rules represent progress, we still need to do much more just to avert total annihilation.

Yet when we look to Capitol Hill, we see Republican "leaders" calling for hearings on aliens while dismissing proven science. And we see them wasting even more time hunting down the perfect "OBAMA SCANDAL!!!" And while they're holding hearings on UFOs and other conspiracy theories, they're failing to perform even the most basic tasks of governance. So we can't really set our hopes too high for this Congress to take serious action on climate change.

But again, this is unsustainable. The status quo is unsustainable. We need to invest in our future. We can't afford to keep longing for a past that will never return.

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