That Video and the Nine-Trillion-Pound Question

You may have seen the new video by Annie Leonard raising questions about cap and trade. It has provoked impassioned responses by environmentalists (comments are pouring in on the post by David Roberts that Tony linked to yesterday, and here’s another from  Eric de Place on Sightline).

The first and most important thing to say about the video is that we really, really, really agree with one of her central points: A cap on carbon pollution is the most important step we can take to protect our environment.

But we disagree with some other things in the video — most of all, the idea that passing the current climate bill would be a bad idea.  The bill isn’t perfect, but it would be an historic and effective step forward.  Here’s why:

If we don’t enact a cap soon, international negotiations will fail.  Without a limit on U.S. emissions, China and India will never agree to cut their global warming pollution.  That means our slow-motion, real-life disaster movie continues, and we probably shoot past the environmental tipping point scientists have warned us about.  That’s why President Obama endorsed the bill and said “delay is no longer an option.”

But maybe the most direct and practical reason is that the bill which passed the House of Representatives will result in a reduction in global warming pollution of four billion metric tons per year. That’s nearly nine trillion pounds less pollution in the atmosphere by mid-century. It’s the equivalent of taking 720 million cars off the road, permanently.

Failing to pass a bill means deciding to allow those 4 billion tons of pollution to go into the atmosphere every year.  Eleven million tons per day.

And if you feel that the bill should be even stronger, remember that some of the most important laws in our nation’s history — Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act — started as important first steps that were strengthened over time.   Unless we lay the foundation, we will never make any progress.

Lastly, the video talks about using the EPA to regulate carbon emissions instead of passing a cap and trade bill.  The EPA has an important role to play, but a law passed by Congress is much better.  There are lots of reasons, but consider just one: Do you really want to let the next anti-environmental President undo pollution limits through executive action?

We think there oughta be a law against that.

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