WashPost: Senate needs to act now on climate bill

Quotes IEA: “Every year the world fails to seriously deal with climate change raises the price tag by $500 billion — a lot of which, no doubt, Americans will be on the hook for”

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) have provided Congress with an opportunity. Their climate bill, released last week, is imperfect. But it offers a start, very much in the right direction. Contrary to popular wisdom, acting on global warming is not going to get easier after this year’s election. Legislators should seize this moment.

Since its opinion pages have been quite dreadful on this issue, the Washington Post‘s editorial on the climate and clean energy jobs bill deserves to be read in full:

The burning of oil, natural gas and coal for industry, transportation and modern life generally gives off gases that get trapped in the atmosphere, keeping heat in and warming the Earth. The consequences of this human-induced influence on global climate are difficult to predict with precision but are likely to be disruptive, possibly catastrophically. Scientists are clear enough on this to make it obvious that people should begin to reduce their dependence on these carbon-based fuels. Every big country will have to play a role — but many won’t get started unless the United States gets serious.

The most rational action, as we’ve said before, would be to put a gradually rising tax on carbon emissions and let the market find the cheapest alternatives. The Kerry-Lieberman bill doesn’t go that route. But it does, through a system of tradable emission permits, create a gradually rising price on carbon emissions that, if properly administered, could have a similar effect. This is crucial, because left to their own devices, legislators will merely subsidize some of the most expensive alternatives to carbon-burning: new nuclear plants (Republicans), solar plants (Democrats), carbon sequestration (coal-state legislators of both parties). If the market is allowed to work, on the other hand, cheaper and more efficient methods — conservation, converting the dirtiest coal plants to natural gas — will probably be used while the rising price of carbon spurs research into currently more expensive solutions, with time bringing down the price of at least some of them.

The longer Congress waits to pass a comprehensive climate bill, the less time America will have to cut its emissions — and the more expensive the process will be. According to the International Energy Agency, every year the world fails to seriously deal with climate change raises the price tag by $500 billion — a lot of which, no doubt, Americans will be on the hook for. And then there’s the politics. The House already has passed a climate bill. President Obama has said he supports action this year. And the next Congress, possibly with a sizable caucus of newly elected climate-change skeptics, could make any sensible environmentalist nostalgic for 2010.

See Each extra year of climate inaction adds $500 billion to final cost “” IEA.

There’s a lot we would change about Kerry-Lieberman, starting with the way it would hand out valuable emissions permits. The legislation can and should improve via amendment. But the bottom line is that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) should get the process started now.

Related Post:

12 Responses to WashPost: Senate needs to act now on climate bill

  1. Laramie Twanzick says:

    If it is that expensive, we need to run from it. 7,000 dollars household. It will be a job killer for sure.

  2. Jon says:

    Can anyone point me to expressions of this “popular wisdom that acting on global warming would become easier after the 2010 midterms”? I wasn’t aware that anyone believed this to be the case, let alone that it was a popular viewpoint.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Continuing to Contemplate the “Wisdom” of The Times?!

    A considerably-better-than-usual article, titled “U.S. Science Body Urges Action on Climate”, by John Broder, ran in The New York Times today. It was fairly short, and it could have been better, but it was pretty darn good in most respects.

    That said, the rather modestly-sized article ran on Page A19!

    The article begins:

    “WASHINGTON — In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation’s leading scientific body declared on Wednesday that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.”

    The article went on to say that the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued reports … “arguing for strong immediate action …”.

    That’s Page 19 material, no doubt: The leading scientific body in the U.S. Humans are altering the Earth’s climate. Strong immediate action is urgently recommended. Yawn.

    (If a huge meteorite were on its way to hit Earth in 48 hours, I would hope that would make it to page 18, or maybe even page 17, unless of course the Yankees had a close game yesterday. And, we wouldn’t expect The Times to put an article such as today’s on the front page, where ExxonMobil ads routinely appear, because it could all get a bit too confusing, and after all we have to have our priorities.)

    Can someone please tell me: Who runs the front page of The New York Times? Or do they throw darts to figure out what to cover?

    I mean, really! The Times didn’t cover (in the paper) that letter from over 250 scientists. They didn’t cover the letter from the AAAS and seventeen leading scientific organizations, sent to all members of the U.S. Senate by the AAAS late last year. And they put announcements and information such as those mentioned above on Page A19.

    What is wrong with those folks? (Or perhaps, what is wrong with me, for thinking that such information should be on the front page?)

    Andrew Revkin, John Broder, Bill Keller, Clark Hoyt, Curtis Brainard — ANYBODY! — can we get some answers, please? Is there some sort of “wisdom” that I don’t know about that justifies putting this article on Page A19 and not even covering the other two things mentioned above? If so, please let us know.



  4. robhon says:

    Laramie Twanzick… That is what it will cost every household every year IF WE DO NOTHING! It’s a little difficult to run away from doing nothing. It means you have to very rapidly run TOWARD doing SOMETHING!

  5. homunq says:

    So the choice is pass the bill now, or pay the bill later?

  6. Eric says:

    @Laramie Twanzick $500 billion for the worldwide cost, not the US cost. Nowhere near $7000 per US household.

    FWIW … I didn’t enjoy putting a roof on my house this year either, but it keeps me safe, warm, dry, and stops the rest of the house from crumbling in the coming years. It was the prudent thing to do, even though it was pretty expensive, and I had to finance some of it. Same kinda deal ….

  7. Lee says:

    For those who think “It will be a job killer for sure.”

    You should look at this:

    “Senate climate legislation unveiled last week would spark a decade of multibillion-dollar investments to help overhaul how the nation produces and consumes energy, adding 200,000 jobs per year in the construction of new power plants and through greater demand for biofuels, according to a nonpartisan study released today.”

  8. Jamal Wills says:

    @Jeff Huggins

    You actually read the newspaper–on PAPER??

  9. fj2 says:

    Because of known and unknown instabilities and disastrous amplifying effects and the enormous stakes the rational approach would be a war on business-as-usual with war-like initiatives to mitigate, adapt, and ultimately eliminate the environmental crisis.

  10. A little OT but:

    More “overt cheating” by climate change deniers: Easterbrook fakes his figures, hides the incline –

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    My Global Warming Blog

  11. Leland Palmer says:

    At the same time that the editorial in question supports the climate bill, it slips some zingers in “under the radar”.

    Will the future cost of solar power plants be high? The editorial asserts that it will, but with economies of scale, solar thermal could be competitive, and solar photovoltaics have show startling progress in the last few years.

    Carbon sequestration, if combined with biomass fuel sources, could be the key to solving the whole problem, and if the cost is high remember that the synergistic effects of carbon negative energy production change the math in startling ways. So far as I am aware, there have been very few studies of the effects of carbon negative energy production. The Wikipedia page on BECCS does show a graph that shows that costs for reaching 350 ppm CO2 rise asymptotically for all other scenarios other than carbon negative ones.

    The editorial does not mention wind energy, possibly because it is already cheaper than coal, in many cases. This apparently disrupts the “fossil fuels are cheaper than renewables” conceptual frame.

    Even when admitting something we agree with, the WP editorials still contain a lot of conceptual frames that are at least troubling. Personally, I avoid reading any of the output of the mainstream media whenever possible, simply because I accept no information from a source so obviously biased in the past, in the cheerleading leading up to the Iraq war and the WMD fiasco, for example.

  12. dk says:

    hey jeff,

    relax.. the real and growing threat of climate change is old news. if that article is on page one, no one is going to pick up the times and say “omg! climate change is real!”

    what matters is everyone that already knows how serious the issue is to let their congressman know to pass the bill. i will certainly not vote for anyone that doesn’t in my state’s next election.