Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Battle is Joined

Yesterday President Obama met the March 31 deadline (most countries have needed an extension), and submitted the US's greenhouse gas reduction plan to the UNFCCC. The plan, which follows the agreement announced in Beijing last fall, is a modest one: 26-28% reductions from 2005 levels by 2025 (the EU measures its 40% by 2030 against 1990 levels--a significant difference). The Times treated the announcement as a back-page story, while environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth pointed out that the proposal is far too modest to meet the overarching goal of arresting temperature increases at 2 degrees C.

But the real story is the reaction of Republicans in the US Congress. This submission marks the start of an epic battle. Majority Leader McConnell has declared the US approach--depending on executive regulatory actions independent of Congress--"illegal" and probably unconstitutional. Along with Senator Imhofe, chairman of Environment and Public Works and the Senate's most notorious climate change denier, McConnell and their allies warned the UN to "proceed with caution" since the US commitments were unreliable, unratifiable, and would be overturned by Congress. Missouri's Senator Blunt has already introduced legislation that would require Senate confirmation for any agreements reached in Paris. In short, as with Iran, the Republican Congressional party is trying to precipitate a constitutional crisis while undermining the capacity of the President and executive branch to proceed with its international commitments to mitigate climate change.

Can the Republicans sow enough doubt in international circles to undermine the Paris conference? That is surely their goal. They understand that the Paris conference is the point of no return. They sense they can bring the American people with them in this insane joy ride Their Presidential candidate in 2016 will no doubt attempt to inhibit the Democratic nominee from supporting further greenhouse gas reductions, or savage her (or him) for taking a responsible stand. This is a battle with enormous consequences. Are we ready for it? Can we generate enough support for science, reason, and the future to turn back the truly dark forces lining up behind ignorance, indifference, and short-term gain? I don't think we can afford to fail.

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