On Monday, climate activists, nonprofit leaders, and governmental officials will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to look for new ideas to address climate change. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, organized by leading social organizations like 350.0rg, “will advocate the right to “live well,” as opposed to the economic principle of uninterrupted growth,” as Inter Press Service explains. In the absence of real leadership from the world’s governments, the conferees at Cochabamba are looking for solutions “committed to the rights of people and environment.”
The United States certainly isn’t stepping up. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), were supposed to release their climate legislation next week, just in time for Earth Day. But yesterday the word came down that the release was being pushed back by another week, to April 26.
No matter when it finally arrives, like other recent environmental initiatives, this round of climate legislation falls short. Even if Congress manages to pass a bill -- and there’s no guarantee -- it will likely leave plenty of room for the coal, oil, and gas industries to continue pouring carbon into the atmosphere. And a wimpy effort from Congress will hinder international work to limit carbon emissions: As a prime polluter, the United States needs to put forward a real plan for change.
Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman
Although the text of the bill is not public yet, it is likely that this attempt at Senate climate legislation will limit carbon emissions only among utilities and gradually phase in other sectors of the economy. On Democracy Now!, environmentalist Bill McKibben called the bill “an incredible accumulation of gifts to all the energy industries, in the hopes that they won’t provide too much opposition to what’s a very weak greenhouse gas pact.”
Climate reform began with a leaner idea, a cap-and-trade system that limited carbon emissions while encouraging innovation. The Nation’s editors document the transformation of climate reform from the Obama administration’s original cap-and-trade proposal to the behemoth tangle it has become. Both the House and the Senate fattened their versions of climate legislation with treats for the energy industry. The Senate’s new idea to gradually expand emissions reduction through a bundle of energy bills only opens up more opportunities for influence.
“Some of these pieces of legislation may pass; others may fail; all are ripe for gaming by corporate lobbies,” the editors write. “Kerry-Lieberman-Graham would also skew subsidies in the wrong direction, throwing billions at “clean coal” technologies, nuclear power plants and offshore drilling, a questionable gambit favored by the Obama administration to garner support from Republicans and representatives from oil-, gas- and coal-producing states.”
Even with these goodies, the climate bill may not pass. The Washington Independent rounds up the D.C. players to watch as the next fight unfolds, including the Chamber of Commerce’s William Kovacs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lisa Jackson.
In theory, the climate bill should not be America’s only ride to a greener future. But the other vehicles for green change choked during start-up. The EPA was going to regulate carbon emissions, but Congress has reared against that effort. The climate bill could snatch away that power from the executive branch.
If companies won’t limit their carbon emissions, individuals still have the option for action. But as Heather Rogers explains in The Nation, carbon offsets, one of the most popular mechanisms for minimizing carbon use “are a dubious enterprise.”
“To begin with, they don’t cut greenhouse gases immediately but only over the life of a project, and that can take years–some tree-planting efforts need a century to do the work. And a project is effective only if it’s successfully followed through; trees can die or get cut down, unforeseen ecological destruction might be triggered or the projects may simply go unbuilt.”
The pull of carbon offsets should diminish as energy use in buildings, cars, food, and flights gains in efficiency and uses less carbon. But if the green jobs sector is any indication, that revolution has been slow in coming. ColorLines reports that “there are no firm numbers on how many newly trained green workers are still jobless. But stories abound of programs that turn out workers with new, promising skills -- in solar panel installation and weatherization, in places like Seattle and Chicago -- and who nonetheless can’t find jobs.”
Cochabamba’s unique approach
These failures and setbacks don’t just affect Americans; they keep our leaders from negotiating with their international peers. The United Nations led a conference last winter in Copenhagen that promised to hash out carbon limits, yet produced no binding agreement. This coming winter, the UN will try again in Mexico, but if the United States shows up with the scant plan put forward by Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, those negotiations have little promise.
In Cochabamba, leaders from inside and outside the government will attend a summit to discuss the future of climate change action. In The Progressive, Teo Ballve writes that,
“One of the bolder ideas is the creation of a global climate justice tribunal that could serve as an enforcement mechanism. And conference participants are already working on a “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights” meant to parallel the U.N.’s landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.”
With U.S. government action paling, it might take outside ideas like these to revitalize the push towards a green future. By the end of next week, we’ll see if the Cochabamba group made any more progress than the bigwigs at Copenhagen.
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