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From The Editor

Profile in Cowardice

Each day brings fresh evidence of how humanity’s reckless carbon consumption fuels atmospheric changes. Europe experienced a particularly bizarre summer, as erratic weather simultaneously brought a heat wave to the Balkans and floods to Britain. Climate models predict that in coming decades wet regions will get wetter and dry regions will suffer more droughts. A new study suggests that climate change will even make ocean waves travel faster (see “Temperature Gauge,” page 23).

Yet the US Congress appears unable to adequately address the crisis. To reduce carbon emissions will require sweeping changes in how we produce the energy that powers our lives. Given that fact, Congress’s recent energy legislation is a disappointment. When it comes to reforming our energy system, the Capitol has been a profile in cowardice.

The energy bills passed by the Senate in July and the House in August are certainly improvements over what Republicans approved in 2005. The Senate version calls for a 40 percent increase in automobile fuel economy by 2020. In the House, legislators passed a “renewable energy standard” that requires utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from green sources by 2020.

But muscling from the auto manufacturers prevented the House from following the Senate’s lead on car and truck rules. Similarly, the Senate did not pass a renewable energy standard because of pressure from the utility corporations. The two versions will have to be reconciled this fall, and only then will Congress turn its attention to legislation focused on climate change.

Some Democratic allies blame corporate lobbying for the failure to go further. It’s a lame excuse. Leadership, after all, is about grace under fire. As one Capitol Hill environmental operative told me: “Frankly, the Democrats aren’t very good at playing hardball, and the Republicans are very good at it.”

This issue of EIJ proves that things don’t have to be this way. Solar energy provides a way to meet some electricity needs, John Schaeffer explains in “Conversation” (page 51). On the Great Plains, one Native American nation is showing how wind power can be a source of local economic development (page 25). Oil-rich Ecuador is considering whether not to drill for oil in a region with proven petroleum reserves).

The struggle over our energy future is not a debate about technology; the mechanisms exist for producing electricity in a cleaner fashion. Rather, it’s a question of priorities: Do we want to continue living the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed? Or would we rather slow down a bit, and in the process learn ways to use less energy? Sure, we could produce carbon-light energy if we built a hundred more nuclear plants. But is that what we really want?

The politicians are stuck. The choices you make can help move them.graphic of Jason Mark's signature


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