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Our Best Shot at Climate Leadership

Will the U.S. lead on confronting climate change, or not? The House has passed a landmark bill. Now it's on to the Senate. Colin Beavan explains what ACES means, and why you should know about it.
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There is a climate bill that was passed by the House of Representatives and is now moving on to the Senate. It is called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (HR 2454), known as ACES. Read a summary here. In this post, I'm going to tell you why I support the bill.

Let me first address myself to those of my friends and readers who are not fans of government intervention and regulation:

There is no way to make the necessary reductions in our carbon use by individual action alone. Even if we use no electricity in our homes, buy nothing new, eat only local, we are still responsible for the carbon emissions of the society we live in—those caused by our local, state and national government, the military, the corporations we buy from, etc.

There is no way to get all these institutions—including the electricity companies—to adequately reduce their carbon emissions unless we the people tell them they have to. Wherever you stand on Big Government, we have to agree that there are times when government does have a job to do. Reducing carbon emissions to ameliorate the effects of global warming is one of those times.

Now, allow myself to address myself to those of you who are upset that ACES has been and will be further weakened by industrial interests in Washington. I was told by a Washington insider that Exxon Mobil alone has 5,000 lobbyists crawling around the Capitol trying to water down the bill.

As the 1SKy analysis of the bill says:

It is clear given recent changes since the discussion draft was released that Big Oil, Dirty Coal, and other polluters are continuously working to riddle this bill with loopholes, water it down, and keep America dependent on dirty fuels like oil and coal. In the last three months alone, fossil fuel companies have outspent environmental groups 16 to 1 on capitol hill. The industries spent $79 million to lobby Congress, outspending the green community’s comparatively meager $4.7 million in the same time period.
Lots of folks are justifiably concerned that if ACES passes, then the United States will be able to falsely reassure itself that it has done its job on climate change when it has not. Therefore, these people believe, ACES should not be passed. We should wait until we have something better.

I sympathize, but I disagree.

ACES is the only chance we have to pass a climate bill before the international negotiations to finalize a worldwide climate treaty in Copenhagen in December of this year. If the United States—one of the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses—does not demonstrate that it is willing to get serious about climate, then there is diminished incentive for anyone else, like the Chinese, to get serious.

Secondly, if ACES fails, then there is unlikely to be another attempt to do something about greenhouse gas emissions for an entire year, until the 2010 midterm elections have passed. In other words, ACES, as compromised as it may turn out to be, may be our only chance to do something about climate as a nation before November 2010.

For these two reasons, I support ACES, warts and all, and I hope all of you—Democrat and Republican included—will support ACES, too. It's not perfect for a lot of reasons. But it's a first step. We can do more later.

Here, by the way, is what the New York Times says about the bill.


Colin Beavan is a non-fiction writer and internet blogger noted for recording the attempts of he and his family to live a zero impact lifestyle in New York City for one year. Colin’s book about his No Impact Man experiment will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in September 2009. Visit his blog at NoImpactMan.com.


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Interested? Read more on activism around the climate bill…
The Climate Crisis: What Would it Look Like to Do Everything We Can Imagine?
At EPA Hearings and in Congress, Public and Politicians Ready for Climate Action

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