Now that the Health Care Bill Battle has been won (at least the first big round), more big legislative battles loom on the horizon. Financial reform, nuclear non-proliferation, the supposedly already-lost Employee Free Choice Act, all promise to be the same kind of knock-down, dragged-out pitched battles between moderate, compromise proposals from the Obama administration and a consistently obstructionist Republican opposition.
Among these fights, climate change and energy legislation will follow a similar pattern. The Republicans, lobbyists and corporate PR flacks will denounce any and all action as a "government takeover" of the economy. They are already gearing up their noise machine to boost claims of scientific disagreement (in reality, those who disagree and deny are predominately industry-paid scientists, right-wing hacks and a few crackpots) and to create a fog of controversy to hide their self-aggrandizing motives. "Scientific uncertainty," "climategate," "IPCC mistakes" and ridiculous claims that scientists get grants by faking climate data so climate change is all a hoax are among the sideshows they are trumpeting.
As NASA climate change scientist James Hansen, and many others point out, in a debate with the laws of physics, the laws of physics give no ground; they will always win. The list of increasing climate change-related problems continue to multiply, providing proof of the dangers humanity faces.
Storms are intensifying. The oceans are rapidly experiencing acidification, threatening coral reefs, fish and the ability of the ocean to absorb more carbon dioxide. Heat waves, droughts and weird weather are becoming more common and protracted.
While the science is ever-clearer, the political situation around energy and climate change is murky and confusing.
The Obama administration is making some contradictory moves. Obama announced a relaxation in the ban on off-shore drilling on much of the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast. Almost simultaneously, he announced significant positive increases in gas mileage standards over the next decade. He also is arguing for more federal funds for nuclear plants, and helping carve out exceptions which continue our dependence on coal.
The Environmental Protection Agency is proceeding on two fronts to figure out how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. First, due to the direct pollution affects of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere which cause rising temperatures, and second, due to the increasing acidification of the world's oceans, also due in part to carbon dioxide emissions as well as the warming atmosphere.
While as of yet the EPA has not actually begun issuing regulations to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, this threat is being used by some in Congress to argue that Congressional action should take place before the EPA acts. Conversely, some Congresspeople have introduced legislation to prevent the EPA from taking any action at all.
As was true with the health care bill, mass action will be required to force Congress to act, to back up action by the EPA, and to provide political pressure on the Obama administration to not compromise on serious climate change legislation.
Even limited action will help advance the momentum to fight climate change. Many cities, some states, and millions of individuals are already taking action, but much more is needed, and a start at federal action limiting greenhouse gases is the next big step.
Photo: Hundreds of school children lift up a 350 in Santa Ynez, Calif. The number, 350, represents the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere (parts per million). 350.org/CC