Living on Earth has been airing clips of a forum with presidential candidates talking about environmental issues, with a special focus on climate change. This took place in LA in late November, and clips of the audio are available in podcast. The first in the series was Senator Clinton. She had several environmental goals, should she take office, but I was most interested by what she had to say about climate change. This is in response to the question of how her administration would be different, considering each of the last three presidents intended to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. Bush Sr. signed the UNFCCC during the Earth Summit era, which was a big commitment for the US. Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, which was also a big deal, though lack of support on the floor prevented the paperwork from ever being presented. This continued in the current Bush administration, adding withdrawal from Kyoto, though during his campaign Bush was quoted advocating CO2 as a regulated pollutant.
Climate change is a hard issue for regulation, no matter how you cut it. The exact impacts are uncertain, and it’s hard to motivate people about impending doom if you can’t really tell them what to expect. That’s part of the problem. There are also challenges in that people in charge today didn’t cause all of the problem. The problem’s been building over time, and any change made to remedy the issue is not actually going to make things better immediately. In fact, improvements made today will likely not change the issue during my lifetime. No matter how much we like to say we’ll leave a better world for our children and our children’s children, people generally have a very hard time acting collectively for a long term payoff.
This is even more true when money is tight and the potential solutions are expensive. Yes, they are lest costly over time, but again, when the payoff is in your grandchildren’s time period, the value to people today is negligible.
I agreed with the senator’s comments on why we can make changes regarding climate change:
There is a salience to global climate change that was not there even seven years ago, and that raised awareness presents an opportunity for action.
We are moving toward a growing global commitment on climate change. There is a sense that we (the US) aren’t keeping up, and we need to reassert our capacity to lead.
We have to have a commitment from a president at a time when elected officials are ready to act, and Congress is much more ready for that change.
There is a long road for recovery of environmental policy in the US. Turning around the reversals and loopholes the current Administration has set in place will be the challenge for activism, in addition to enabling us to actually move forward on the issues of concern today. The key on this is going to be sustainability, and also an eye on linkages. We complain about the state of health care… the threats to human health by reversing environmental regulations in addition to threats related to climate change put people at risk in terms of the air they breathe and the water they drink. In the US, as in the rest of the world, those most at risk are the poor. A cleaner environment means more days in school, higher worker productivity, and improved quality of life. I truly hope that political will can keep the bigger picture in sight to keep environmental concerns on the table in the next administration, no matter what that administration is.