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Lonely senator says Copenhagen necessary for climate action in U.S.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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COPENHAGEN—Not a lot of U.S. Senators will make the trek to the United Nations’ climate summit here—a delegation led by California Sen. Barbara Boxer will stay home to focus on the ongoing health care debate while arch-contrarian Senator James Inhofe (R–Okla.) stopped in but briefly. But Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.) made the trip to say that "success in Copenhagen is really critical to success next year in the U.S. Senate and Congress."

That is, without action toward a global agreement in Copenhagen, it will be difficult, in Kerry’s opinion, for senators from, for example, Ohio to reassure constituents that U.S. action won’t reduce economic opportunity. "Here in Copenhagen, it’s critical that people understand that one of the reasons the U.S. has moved as slowly and with reservation is a fear by many members of Congress and people across the country that if we take those steps [to cut CO2 emissions] they’re simply going to be eclipsed by rising emissions in developing countries," Kerry says.

After all, Kerry noted that total greenhouse gas emissions from China will likely be 40 percent higher than the U.S.’s by 2020, and 97 percent of emissions growth in the next decade will come from developing countries. "None of us on the planet are doing enough under any plan currently proposed to keep the temperature from rising two degrees Celsius," Kerry notes. "India, China, countries that didn’t have to step up have stepped up and have made a commitment to reduce," but those emission reductions will need to be verified.

"It would be a terrible irony, to say the least, if we succeed in understanding the terrible mistakes that have been made over these years but have brought us where we are with this crisis but allow the less developed world to repeat our mistakes and develop the way we did," Kerry says. Partnerships among the U.S. and India and China to develop technology, as well as cleaner fuel sources, such as shale gas, the discovery of which may enable the U.S. to reduce its emissions more quickly and cheaply than anticipated, have been signed in recent weeks.

Ultimately, Kerry is optimistic for climate legislation in the U.S. in 2010, noting business and bipartisan support for action as well as passage of a bill in the House of Representatives this year and the looming threat of regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We’re going to pass major energy and climate legislation that will have an impact on the reduction of emissions," he says, by June most likely. "The only way to reduce emissions and meet the goals that science tells us we must meet is to price carbon," whether a tax, cap-and-trade scheme, or other policy.

After all, the science of climate change and its impacts becomes ever more clear. "Science has been screaming at us since Rio [in 1992] and it’s screaming at us today even more so," Kerry says. "Vast populations are going to experience negative consequences as a result of something they had nothing to do with."

And with world leaders already descending on Copenhagen, the pressure is mounting here to get a deal done. "Ministers who have their bosses coming are particularly keen ot have things done," says Todd Stern, chief negotiator for the U.S. "I think it’s pressure of a salutary kind."

Image: © David Biello





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  1. 1. Michael Hanlon 1:34 am 12/17/2009

    "…that if we take those steps [to cut CO2 emissions] they’re simply going to be eclipsed by rising emissions in developing countries," Kerry says."
    Meaning we don’t take those sreps? Senator please, to measure sucess by whether or not congress gets kudos is , , , well in this day and age, tantamount to blasphemy. A Cardinal sin to attach any caveat to steps to remove human influence from the Earth’s environment.

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  2. 2. Michael Hanlon 2:05 am 12/17/2009

    Just get your Boston Butt back here and start writing the legislation that will help us see a better tomorrow.

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  3. 3. JamesDavis 7:47 am 12/17/2009

    Senator (R) Capito from West Virginia is going to the Summit in behalf of CO2 emissions. She believes that the more pollution we create, the more jobs we will keep here in America. I think she, like all republicans, just want the tax payers to fund her a nice vacation.

    The governor of West Virginia, (D/R) Joe Manchin is standing by to ship billions of tons of coal and natural gas to China so they can continue their pollution. Maybe these two dinwitted politicans are right; let’s create more CO2 and CO1 pollution so we can create more jobs in America…after all, we do not need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, or safe soil to raise our biofuel; after all, they say, "the earth will take care of itself and we will adapt.

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  4. 4. sethdayal 8:10 pm 12/17/2009

    Kerry could make up for his past mistakes by pushing to allocate $3B to build an Idaho National Laboratory designed prototype tested commercial Gen IV reactor – the IFR.

    The Gen IV IFR had an unequaled 30 year run at Idaho National Laboratory but it and a completed design for a 1 Gw power reactor was shelved by Bill Clinton and John Kerry in exchange for Big Oil campaign donations. IFR’s at $1B/Gw could supply all the world’s power for hundreds of years on existing nuclear waste.

    The tiny amount of Nuclear waste from IFR’s is same level as some high grade uranium deposits – put it back in the mine.

    Check out the IFR

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-kirsch/climate-bill-ignores-our_b_221796.html

    When the Atomic Energy commission regulated American reactors in the seventies we were building them for under $1B a reactor ($2009, energy equivalent). Today, US industry is crippled by inefficient private power companies, a biased Nuclear Rejection Commission and corrupt and litigious political and legal systems, quadrupling nuclear costs and time frames.

    To get US costs in line and end made in the USA subsidies, Kerry needs to tell the president he has the authority to order a single nationwide license for American Reactors, replace the Greenpeacer’s on the Nuclear Rejection Commission, and allow nuclear reactors to be build on the site of existing coal plants without any state or local review. Obama could fund a massive national public power utility replacing all the nations coal plants with cheap mass produced nukes.

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  5. 5. eco-steve 5:59 pm 04/12/2010

    Don’t expect politicians to act on climate change. It will be farmers the world over, who, using biomass pyrolysis units will remove unwanted CO2 from the air. After 10 years research and development funded by donations, pyrolysis units are now a commercially viable proposition. See http://www.eprida.com for full details.

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  6. 6. landonthegr8 6:49 pm 11/8/2010

    I only wish MY elected officials were there to make some genuine progress! A bunch of whiners here in the US are too busy worrying about their own lives rather than the world as a whole. And most of them don’t even have unemployment issues. For example, a lot of people saying that they have no money still seem to be on the web every day. Yet actually trying to save the world is too extravagant. On top of that, we just elected a bunch of Big Oil, and Big Business RepubliCONS that seem pretty content with the idea that global warming is a…. hoax. God help us!

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