More than One Way to Heal a Climate


As Elizabeth noted yesterday, it is hard to escape the irony of the Senate closing up shop on comprehensive energy and climate legislation at precisely the moment that the East Coast is mired in a deadly heat wave -- a heat wave that comes in the wake of the hottest January-June period in the instrumental record, according to NOAA.

The news about the demise of climate legislation is depressing, if not entirely surprising. The only plausible path to preventing catastrophic global warming is with an enforceable international agreement and the only plausible path toward that agreement is a strong commitment to action by the United States. Yet, as David Roberts describes in Grist, the political barriers to strong action in the U.S. Senate were overwhelming.

Ultimately, the only thing that can overcome those barriers is an organized citizen movement. But it is important to remember that while congressional action is a likely prerequisite to solving global warming, there is plenty that can be done in the meantime to cut emissions and to make future federal action easier to achieve and more likely to succeed.

The World Resource Institute's new report, Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States Using Existing Federal Authorities and State Action, makes the case that the United States can achieve the lion's share of our necessary emission reductions without waiting for Congress to act. All it takes is for federal agencies (especially the EPA) to use their existing statutory authority to curb emissions and for states to follow through on promised emission reductions.

The WRI report reinforces the message of our America On the Move report that state actions on energy and climate can play an important role in curbing emissions, while building both the policy experience and political willpower for stronger and more comprehensive action down the road.

Getting federal and state officials to follow through on their promises and statutory imperatives is not a given, of course, and there will be plenty to keep activists busy on that front as we wait for a new Congress to convene in 2011.