Appeared in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan on June 3, 2010
Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman should be commended for finally introducing a bill in the United States Senate to address the problem of global climate change. Although it is a step in the right direction, their proposed American Power Act, or APA, does not go nearly far enough to successfully avert climate catastrophe. The Fort Collins Sustainability Group, therefore, urges Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to work to improve the bill as outlined below.
First, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions target for 2020 set forth in the APA needs to be strengthened. The APA would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent with respect to 2005 levels by 2020. In contrast, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends emissions cuts of between about 35 percent and 50 percent for industrial nations with respect to that baseline by 2020 in order limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
Most climate scientists, including Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute, now believe that even the upper range of the IPCC recommendation is too low. After all, a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise would result in an average global temperature higher than it’s been since the agricultural revolution began some 10,000 years ago. With the global population expected to increase to at least 8 billion people by the middle of this century, such a dramatic temperature rise could lead to unprecedented chaos and misery.
Clearly, a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is inadequate, according to the best available science. A 35 percent reduction by 2020 should be the minimum acceptable target. Fifty percent would be better, although even that figure would not guarantee the avoidance of climate catastrophe.
The APA would invest far too little in making the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. It would allocate only $7 billion per year for the next 10 years, most of which would subsidize nuclear fission plants, so-called “clean coal” technologies and natural gas transportation. Only a small fraction of that investment would support truly renewable technologies, such as wind and solar.
In contrast, the Department of Defense’s 2010 budget will exceed $680 billion this year, or almost 100 times the amount that would be invested under the APA to fund the transition to a clean-energy economy. In order to adequately address the problem of global climate change, the APA should probably dedicate at least 10 times as much funding as is contained in the current version. Additionally, that investment should be more narrowly focused on replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.
Finally, the APA would give away all greenhouse gas emissions permits at first and would not charge polluters for the right to emit greenhouse gases until the mid-2020s. Instead, all permits should either be auctioned off starting immediately or, better still, a carbon tax should be implemented to make the investments needed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the best available science.
In summary, the American Power Act should contain a much more aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020, it should dedicate sufficient investments for facilitating a rapid transition to a clean-energy economy and it should include a funding mechanism capable of supporting those investments. Unless these changes are made, the United States will not be able to do its part to halt catastrophic global climate change.
Kevin Cross is an energy engineer and is active with the Fort Collins Sustainability Group (www. cjpe.org/fcsg).