Those of us who have never tried to push a bill through Congress can’t appreciate what a difficult and frustrating process it is. It’s time we do — and time we take to the streets.
Some weeks ago, I posted a column about the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, which proposes that by 2020, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% below their level in 2005. That’s less than half the goal set by the European Union – the equivalent of a 32% reduction in emissions by 2020 compared to 2005. The Lieberman-Warner cap is hardly a model policy for the world’s second-largest source of GHG emissions. I was not happy with a group of U.S. environmental leadership who endorsed that goal in a letter to Congress.
I spent time last week with one of those leaders — a man who carries a picture of his grandson in his shirt pocket to remind him of why working on the climate issue is worth the grief he gets from people like me – and I gained a different perspective: Inadequate action on the Hill is the result of inadequate action on the streets. The political calculus for climate caps is the same as it is for virtually every other dicey issue in Congress: Members feel they are more likely to keep their seats supporting a 15% reduction than supporting a 30% reduction.
We need to flip that calculation, making bold climate action the best way for members of Congress and presidential candidates to win the next election, and that puts the burden back on us voters. While our environmental leaders are chasing legislative aides through the halls of the Capitol, the rest of us need to take to the streets in a nonviolent show of solidarity that elected officials cannot ignore.
The movement to the streets may take legs this week.
Thousands of young people will convene in and around Washington D.C. Nov. 2-5 to take part in Power Shift 2007, billed as the first national youth summit on climate change. They’ll attend global-warming seminars in College Park, Md., and ascend the Hill on Nov. 5 to visit with Congress.
Elsewhere around the nation on Nov. 3, StepItUp will conduct rallies at places named after iconic American leaders – the kind we need now. One week out, StepItUp’s organizers report that of the presidential candidates, John McCain, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have committed to attend rallies, as have a number of congressional members. The group’s superbly organized web site shows where rallies will be held, helps supporters contact their representatives on the Hill and offers a local action manual for all seasons by Bill McKibben, one of the movement’s several leaders who deserve a place named after them some day.
Those of us who do not have air fare for Washington D.C. or a nearby StepItUp rally can have our fingers do the marching. In solidarity with the young people on the streets, each of us should call or write his or her congressional office with a simple message: “30 by 20″. In other words, Congress should pass legislation that requires a 30% reduction from current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, roughly equal to the EU’s goal.
That is not too much to expect of the nation that is the world’s greatest source of innovation and whose citizens emit twice the greenhouse gases of the typical German. It amounts to an average reduction of 2.5% annually over the next dozen years.
Take to the streets. Global warming deserves at least as many boots on the ground as the civil rights movement and the protests against the Vietnam War. My friend with the picture of his grandson in his pocket will be grateful that we’ve made his job in Congress a little easier.
– Bill B.