Climate Feedback

Countdown to Copenhagen

Keith Kloor

The public battle starts anew on the U.S. congressional climate & energy bill, as senate hearings get underway today. Keith Johnson over at the WSJ’s Environmental Capital believes that three camps will shape the debate:

“Those that believe climate legislation will actually strengthen the economy, those that figure it will have significant but manageable costs, and those that figure it will further burden a recession-challenged economy. Much of the opposition in the Senate—both from Republicans and Democrats—centers on how big the final bill is and who picks up the tab.”

While the proposed legislation is slated to cut greenhouse gases by about 80 percent by 2050, Grist predicts there will be plenty of concessions to coal, nuclear, and natural gas proponents, and even then:

“Reaching a compromise, as the debate over health care reform is already showing, will come down to a key question: How much are the Democrats willing to give away in order to secure one or two votes from the other side of the aisle?”

Despite the tough congressional slog, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he was hopeful the U.S. congress would pass the bill before the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference in December. At a press conference on Monday, the Secretary General said he would be personally calling Senators to pick up the pace.

Whatever happens in Congress, pressure is mounting for President Obama to bring his prestige and Nobel aura to Copenhagen. That’s not likely to happen, reports The Times. According to this story:

“a source close to the Administration said it was ‘hard to see the benefit’ of his going to Copenhagen if there was no comprehensive deal for him to close or sign. Another expert, who did not want to be named, said he would be ‘really, really shocked’ if Mr Obama went to Copenhagen, adding that European hopes about the power of his Administration to transform the climate change debate in a matter of months bore little relation to reality.”

Despite the increasingly bleak outlook for a comprehensive deal at Copenhagen, people around the world on Saturday expressed their concern about global warming. At over 5,000 events, signs and banners were unfurled that read 350, a symbolic number in reference to 350 parts per million, which many scientists have said should be the limit for carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere. (We’re currently topping out at 387 parts per million.)


Whether the campaign helps mobilize global action on climate change remains to be seen. Andrew Revkin at the New York Times reported that some environmental scholars are doubtful. Revkin writes that Robert J. Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University:

“questioned the core symbol and message of 350.org. [Brulle] suggested that it might be too technical and that it focused on deeply cutting emissions without providing a clear path for accomplishing the task.”

What would make a huge difference, suggests Lord Stern, former adviser to the British government on the economics of climate change, is if people became vegetarians:

“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

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