Not Even a Mouse …

Global Sea Surface Temperature ... photo: NASA

The proverb about an elephant laboring mightily and bringing forth a mouse comes to mind …

But the fact is that when the U.S. Senate gave up last week on trying to pass even a stripped-down, no-climate-stuff kind of energy bill, in the end there wasn’t even a mouse to show for it.

This is a bitter pill to swallow for almost anyone who cares that the best scientists we’ve got tell us we’re quickly running out of time to head off the worst impacts of a warming planet. But it’s a particular disappointment for our European neighbors.

“Well, it’s certainly not reassuring for us.”

That’s Malachy Hargadon, with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Climate Action. Hargadon told me that Europe had really been hoping the Americans would finally step up to the plate.

“Everybody has been looking to the US and to the Senate in particular … (We hoped) a bill would come and it would be a comprehensive, economy-wide bill that would have at its heart a cap-and-trade system. And the fact that that’s not going ahead at this time is not reassuring and it’s going to be a knock for the international negotiations.”

(As I write this, climate negotiations are wrapping up in Bonn, and reports are not encouraging. In a replay of Copenhagen last December, developing economies are demanding that the developed world make deeper cuts in their carbon emissions and cough up many billions of dollars to help the have-nots make the shift to a post-carbon economy. There’s one more of these negotiator-level meetings planned, in China in October, before the big boys all show up in Cancun at the end of the year to take another shot at a comprehensive international agreement.)

When I was in Brussels last summer, business representatives told me they’re fully on board with the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction program. But they expressed concerns that it put them at a competitive disadvantage.

“If you make one ton of steel, you produce about one ton of CO2,” Folker Franz told me. Franz is with BusinessEurope, the European equivalent of the US Chamber of Commerce.  “Right now, the price of carbon is about $17 per ton. So, one ton of steel produced in the EU is $17 more expensive than a ton of steel from somewhere else, and that makes a difference.”

I tried last week to get a hold of Franz for an update, but he’d already headed out of town for the August break. He did e-mail me his take on the death of the Senate climate bill.

“The developments in the US Congress are of course horrible news for an international climate agreement any time soon. I think we all need to take a deep breath now and rethink strategies on how to move towards a low-carbon world. First step in my view: focus less on absolute emission caps but more on technology R&D and on energy efficiency.”

I asked Malachy Hargadon if European businesses were getting nervous about getting out on a limb with a cap-and-trade system, if it was beginning to look as if no one else was going to join them there.

“Not in a way that our medium and long-term goals are in any way brought into question,” he said. “Business is fully on board over here … They know we are all in this together and that we’re trying to provide them with the certainty that they want (so) that they can develop their businesses in the medium term, as well.”

In the wake of the Senate’s failure to act, there’s been a flurry of speculation in the news about the initiative shifting back to state and regional efforts such as the Western Climate Initiative (I wrote one of these myself). I asked Hargadon what the EU thought of that approach.

“Well, it’s probably something that can work,” he said. “Every little part has a part to play” But, he said, “It’s certainly not a complete substitute for an economy-wide system, which is what we have. ”

He said the EU sees a US-wide cap-and-trade system as linking with the European system and forming trans-Atlantic setup that ultimately could become the backbone of a global carbon market.

Hargadon said it’s too early to give up on Congress, and while the regional efforts can’t carry the weight a federal carbon market could, he said, “It’s certainly good to have that kind of pressure coming up from below.”

He’s probably right. But unless something substantive comes out of Washington DC before the end of the year, I’m looking for things to hot up a bit in the Northwest with the Western Climate Initiative trying to step into the vacuum left by the feds.


4 Responses to Not Even a Mouse …

  1. William Moriarty says:

    Great! Looks as if your blog could become a clearing house of carbon-trading activity.

    On another front, a recent supplement to the St. Petersburg TIMES was devoted to Native American tribes whose increasing wealth is partly being devoted to restoring exhausted and environmentally-damaged areas within their tribal territories (over-logged forests, polluted watersheds, etc.). The article was divided into such activities in different parts of the U. S., and one of the tribes identified (in Montana, I believe)
    is the SALISH tribe! I thought I put the article aside to send to you, but now I can’t find it. I’m going conduct one more search for it, but if I can’t find it, you might to be able to find it on Google or some other search engine, using the info I’ve given you.

  2. Joe Bianchi says:

    I consider myself an environmentalist: I want the careful stewardship of our resources; I support all efforts to find alternative energy sources (I’ve ALWAYS felt solar was the way to go) and I am concerned with corporate misuse of our food supply chain.

    Now, with that said, I must add that as a Christian I believe that our planet was created by Sovereign God for His purposes. We are commanded to “replenish AND subdue” the earth (Gen. 1:28). We are also to have complete dominion over the living creatures of the earth (Gen 1: 26).

    Man is therefore given stewardship over the earth, not to rape and destroy…but to use
    for his needs. God has also not, because of this, diminished his sovereignty.

    Two principles we learn: The earth cannot destroy the earth. That is, there is nothing in the earth that can cause its own destruction. Witness the recent oil spill in the gulf. Tragic? Indeed, but even the oil gushing out of the ocean’s floor was created by God, thus He has a way of dealing with it within the created environment. Namely, the molecular churning of the water. Note reports that in some cases they cannot even find the oil that was present! Why? The environment’s natural ability to
    correct itself.

    Which brings me to the second point: Man cannot alter the earth in such a way as to
    destroy it or himself. Destruction of same is in the hands of God, and he has appointed a day for that.

    Thus, the shrill calls of “global warming” by true believers is misplaced.

    I would suggest that those reading this check out the Cornwall Alliance…a moderating view of this issue.

  3. liammoriarty says:

    Well, Joe, I’m not sure where I can go with this …

    You’ve made a statement of theological belief. All I have to counter with is science.

    You say that your Christian faith leads you to these conclusions. I think it’s fair to note that not all Christians (, nor even all evangelicals (, share your interpretation of Scripture.

    That said, it seems to me that — while you’re certainly entitled to your religious beliefs, and whatever political positions those beliefs lead you to — I think when we’re confronted with a physical phenomenon that threatens to do profound and long-term damage to the natural systems on which we all depend — theology is a poor substitute for science when it comes to guiding our political responses to that threat.

    I’m not willing to get into an extended tit-for-tat debate over the details of the science. For that, I’d refer you to the excellent site Climate Science From Climate Scientists ( Gavin Schmidt and many other experts in this field provide detailed take-downs of the work of those who claim to debunk mainstream climate science. I lack the training to go deeply into those claim/counterclaim debates, and frankly, everyone who ever has challenged me to defend the mainstream scientific view has also lacked that expertise.

    Suffice it to say that I think our future prosperity on this planet is better served by heeding the best available science than by following a narrow interpretation of religious script.

  4. Joe Bianchi says:

    I think science is on my side, and the need to produce evidence is on your side; viz., to actually produce evidence that man, not the cycles of nature, are producing changes–if any.

    Question: is the earth getting warmer?
    ANS: maybe

    Question: Are the actions of men causing this change–if any.
    ANS: absolutely not

    BTW: science and the revelation of Scripture are not mutually exclusive…but rather conjoint.

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