I added my standard line of reasoning to Repower America’s petition and the Union of Concerned Scientist’s campaign urging the U.S. Congress to pass limits on global warming pollution:

Now that Congress has done what it can to stimulate our beleagured economy with the passage of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, I urge you to take decisive action to steer it in a sustainable direction by passing strong legislation to limit greenhouse gas pollution. While this may seem a low priority at a time when many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, we must consider not only our important short-term priorities but also the long-term interests of our country and our children’s future in our decision making. As repeated reviews of scientific studies by the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made clear, we must take action now to curb greenhouse gas pollution in order to head off major climatic change and its potentially devastating consequences. The longer we delay taking remedial action, the greater the climatic change, the more pronounced its impacts, the more dramatically we will have to cut emissions in future years to achieve the same results, the higher costs to do so and the higher the costs to recover from the consequences of storm damage, flooding, crop failures, water shortages, and forced migration, and resultant human suffering and political turmoil that may result from significant climate change.

While economic exigencies may make it seem like the wrong time to act on climate change, I do not believe we have to choose between a growing economy and mitigating climate change. With the right policy, we can do both. Further, to avoid the costs of climate change impacts and to stay competitive in the 21st century, we must do both. Please pursue greenhouse gas pollution legislation that:

  • Lessens the short-term economic pain of higher energy prices to U.S. consumers by applying credits against or reductions to personal income taxes;
  • Invests any revenue generated from polluters in transition/training programs for fossil fuel energy industry workers displaced by the disruption, as well as in clean energy research, energy efficiency incentives, and additional protections for consumers;
  • Phases-out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which artificially increase production of these polluting energy sources;
  • Enforces hard, significant near-term cuts on global warming pollution with a specific, realistic, and aggressive timetable for a progressively decreasing cap based on the best available, continuously updated, science, which currently calls for decreases to 35 percent below current levels by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050;
  • Provides an offset mechanism or other revenue stream that promotes sustainable practices and carbon offset projects in developing nations so that global greenhouse gas pollution reductions may be made while directing economic development in impoverished nations in toward sustainable economic growth, targeting equatorial countries in particular to prevent tropical deforestation, which accounts for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas pollution;
  • Ensures that all forms of global warming pollution are covered, with no sectors or industries exempted and no loopholes, such as unlimited “offsets” allowing polluters to postpone emissions cuts or “safety valves” limiting the fees polluters must pay for their emissions;
  • Phases out subsidies & set environmentally sound sourcing standards for biofuels ensuring these interim energy sources actually reduce global warming pollution, do so at an efficient cost, and come from waste biomass so that they produce energy without threatening world food supplies;
  • Sets greenhouse pollution allowance quantities low enough & trading prices (&/or tax rates) high enough to avoid the mistakes of the EU cap & trade system & force real market competition for nonpolluting energy sources;
  • Forces all technologies to compete on their merits in the open marketplace, without “picking winners” in advance through subsidies, tax credits, or other government favoritism, in particular to nuclear power, which presents its own enormous set of environmental, health, safety, and national security issues.

Even though its worst impacts may lie decades in the future, the vast geographic- and time-scales of global warming may make it the most urgent environmental and humanitarian threat facing the planet today. At the same time, it also represents a tremendous market opportunity to spur innovation and growth by creating the clean energy economy of the 21st century. As the largest of per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, America must shoulder its responsibility by taking meaningful action to protect the commons of the global climate. The signatories of the of Kyoto Protocol have already committed to do their share and the rest of the world is waiting for our lead. Please pass legislation that ensures we carry out this responsibility in such a way that compels the market to innovate, thereby stimulating the economy, increasing U.S. competitiveness, and creating new jobs.

Keith Gillette