Letting 'The Moment' Pass

Speaking at a meeting of the world’s biggest global warming polluters in Washington today, President Bush said “the moment is now” for action.  But he let the moment go by without making any change in his dogged refusal to put real limits on America’s global warming pollution.

The President spoke at a meeting of the 17 largest economies and biggest emitters – including the European Union, Japan, China, India, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea and the U.S. – that together account for 80 percent of the world’s global warming pollution.  He invited those countries to Washington for a two-day conference on what they can “contribute” to international negotiations on curbing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012.

Wouldn’t this have been a fine moment to change direction and become part of the solution? ... Naaaah! 

President Bush’s opposition to capping and reducing our own global warming pollution is the single biggest obstacle to making progress here at home or with other countries.  He opposes legislation moving in Congress to cap and cut domestic emissions.  He also opposes negotiating any international obligations to cap and cut those emissions together with other countries.

His solution?  “Technology.”  He touted his administration’s investments in cleaner coal, nuclear power, solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel cells. New technologies will save us, he says… sometime in the distant future.

His big initiative for the day?  The President proposed a new international, government-funded technology fund.  But he put no money on the table, saying we’d hear from Treasury Secretary Paulson in a few months.   

R&D is important.  But all by itself, R&D will not get clean technologies into our power plants, factories, cars, and homes.  

What is needed is a clear market signal to use the tremendous array of clean technologies that are already available and on the shelf today.  That same signal will put the enormous resources of the private sector to work inventing new technologies for the future.  The best way to send that signal is to set a cap on our own emissions, and to negotiate reciprocal action from other countries.  Then you’ll see the private sector go to town.

Given the President’s refusal to embrace real limits on heat-trapping emissions, his glowing praise for the Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer is all the more remarkable.  As I wrote last week, the Montreal Protocol is the model for action on global warming – a binding treaty with real obligations to cut pollution.  Developed countries took the lead and developed countries came on board.  Follow that model on global warming? ... Naaah!

The President also proposed a meeting of heads of state next summer to negotiate a “long-term goal.”  He could have jump-started that process by embracing the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world’s scientific experts on global warming – that to avert a build-up of heat-trapping gases to levels that most consider very dangerous, the world needs to stop the growth of global warming pollution within the next 10-15 years and cut global emissions in half by 2050.  He could have endorsed the European Union’s objective of preventing global average temperatures from increasing by more than another 2 degrees Fahrenheit from today’s levels ... Naaaah! 

“The moment” has passed.  And now back to our regularly scheduled war on terrorism.