Why We Can't Wait for a Perfect Climate Bill

Right now, we are the closest the United States has ever come to confronting the crisis of global warming. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and now the Senate will consider similar legislation. It will be a tough fight, but this is our best chance to bring clean energy solutions to America before it is too late.

ACES is a good bill that needs to be strengthened. NRDC is working relentlessly to achieve that as the bill moves through the Senate. And we will continue to bolster it even after it has passed into law.

But here is what we will not do: we will not sit this bill out. We will not wait another year or another Congressional session in order to begin drafting a different climate bill that may have a few more provisions we like.

The Earth simply doesn't have that luxury. We have no more time to waste.

The last few months have brought an avalanche of climate data, culminating with the administration's analysis that the effects of global warming are already upon us and a recent MIT study that found the planet is warming twice as fast as previously thought.

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Nobel-Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future."

He made this comment two years ago.

We have passed the point of waiting to tackle global warming until some indefinite, ideal time in the future. And we have passed the point of speculating about other mechanisms, such as the even-more politically charged proposal of a carbon tax.

In order to prevent the worst effects of global warming from becoming inevitable, we must start reducing carbon pollution right now.

The ACES bill gets us moving down that path. It will lower carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 (the latter figure is higher than the target Obama proposed on the campaign). The bill will also unleash billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, and clean-car technology. 

And make no mistake: it is the strongest bill we can get through Congress. Indeed, it is too strong for many members, and getting it passed will require the efforts of all Americans concerned about clean energy and climate security, including well-intentioned fence-sitters.

Going forward, we can continue working together to fortify the bill if it becomes law. I am reassured by one critical element of the ACES draft: the science "look-backs." These dictate that if new scientific evidence comes in after the bill has pass that calls for stronger action, our lawmakers can tighten the pollution constraints.

This mechanism has already proven effective. Soon after the Montreal Protocol was ratified, scientists concluded that the treaty wasn't strict enough, and the international community rapidly agreed to strengthen it.

But this only works when there is a framework already in place. That is what ACES gives us, and building the framework is always the hardest part.