The economic stimulus package Congress just passed will do a good job of launching America toward a cleaner, more secure energy future. But it is just a start. The stimulus package alone can't take us where we need to go. The question is: what step do we take next?
Some lawmakers are working on energy bills, including a renewable energy standard and energy efficiency measures. Energy legislation could include excellent ways to jumpstart the economy and confront global warming. But we don't have the time to work our way through an a la carte menu of energy solutions. The planet's health is deteriorating too rapidly to digest multiple incremental courses. We need a comprehensive climate bill, and we need to start working on it now.
I recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where global warming was a central topic of conversation. Participants from around the world welcomed Obama's election as a signal that the United States would certainly join an international agreement to curb global warming.
I agree that will happen, but it won't be as straightforward as it appears from the outside. When you look at American politics up close, you realize that even with Presidential leadership, you still have to work through Congress, and with regional differences and competing priorities, that will be a challenge.
A bill to address global warming will be a very complex piece of environmental legislation. It won't just impact one industry (cars or coal plants) or one sector (energy or manufacturing). It will encompass all of them. It will generate $100 to $200 billion a year in dividends for consumers and investments in clean energy. It will create millions of green collar jobs, and spread the benefits of pollution-free power to more Americans. But sorting out the details of such a system will take time.
That's why we need to start working on climate legislation now. If we wait until a renewable energy standard or a broader energy bill has passed, we won't get to a climate bill until May or even later. The international climate negotiations in Copenhagen begin at the end of November, and the American negotiating position will erode if we don't have a national climate commitment at home.
I am confident that we can sort through the complexities of a global warming law. President Obama has pledged his support for climate solutions, and Americans increasingly see the connection between building a clean energy future and generating economic prosperity. But to translate that vision into a reality, we have to keep the pressure on our lawmakers.
Tell your representatives not to wait on solving global warming. Tell them you want them to get to work on a comprehensive climate bill now.