Should Congress act on recommendations of a British report on global warming?: PRO/CON
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One of the greatest failures of American government in recent years has been its unwillingness to tackle the challenge of global warming. Much of the blame can be directed at the administration of George W. Bush, which pulled t...
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One of the greatest failures of American government in recent years has been its unwillingness to tackle the challenge of global warming. Much of the blame can be directed at the administration of George W. Bush, which pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol and did remarkably little to offer meaningful alternatives. But the U. S. Congress has to share the blame for this historic blunder.
Congress has engaged in no serious oversight of the Bush administration's modest endeavors on global warming or its obstinate refusal to recognize overwhelming scientific consensus. To make matters worse, in 2005 Congress approved a new U.S. energy policy that will result in greater use of fossil fuels.
The 110th Congress has a chance to improve on this dismal record. To judge from comments by the new Democratic leaders, it intends to do so. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has called global warming a dire threat to the nation and has urged President Bush to cooperate in developing legislation. She also plans to hold in-depth hearings on the issue, as does Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Will the new Congress live up to its billing? Leading environmentalists say they expect a different agenda but little substantive legislation over the next two years. They see continued opposition by the Bush White House and congressional Republicans to any major policy initiatives.
Even with these formidable obstacles, Democratic leaders and their Republican colleagues should both look closely at a new report by Sir Nicholas Stern, the head of Britain's Economic Service and a former chief economist at the World Bank. It offers a comprehensive, clear and compelling economic analysis of the costs and benefits of taking action on global warming. An extensive summary is available, and the full report, "The Economics of Climate Change," is being published.
Most of the arguments against doing much turn on the anticipated costs to national and world economies. Essentially they say efforts to curb global warming will cost too much. Yet the 700-page Stern review turns that argument on its head. It says if no action is taken, global warming could severely harm the world economy, perhaps shrinking it by a devastating 20 percent.
Hence, nations could well save a great deal of money by acting now, even if they have to spend as much as 1 percent of the global gross domestic product annually to do so.
What realistically might be done now?
Greenhouse gas emissions have to be stabilized over the next20 years and then fall after that. This can be achieved by reducing consumer demand for heavily polluting goods and services and by fostering a transition to a far more efficient global energy economy.
Among the regulatory andmarket-based approaches most often discussed for reaching such goals are the setting of firm carbon reduction targets, creating a global market for carbon trading, offering significant incentives for development and use of green technologies -- especially in the energy and transportation sectors -- promoting sustainable forestry and building public knowledge through information provision and education. Each nation, of course, will have to choose policies it thinks fit its special circumstances.
If they are smart, members of the U.S. Congress and their staff will read the Stern Report carefully and get on with the tasks of designing a more economically sensible and environmentally sound package of global warming policy innovations.
By all means, hold those aggressive oversight hearings. But don't stop there. The greater need is to build public understanding of global warming and assemble the political coalitions necessary to enact essential policies and put them into effect.
Michael Kraft is a professor of political science and public policy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.