Guest Post: Is This the Best We Can Do For Global Warming?

This is a guest post by Donny Shaw, who runs OpenCongress. A joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation, OpenCongress lets you research, track, and understand legislation in Congress.

(That's not a rhetorical question.)

As expected, the Senate has chosen to move forward with the the most lenient global warming bill among the several it had to choose from. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner's (R-VA) cap-and-trade bill, the America's Climate Security Act of 2007 was marked up favorably by the Private Solutions to Global Warming Subcommittee by a vote of 4-3. It will now move to the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a vote before going to the Senate floor.

The bill would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by about 63 percent below present levels by 2050 through setting limits on the emissions that manufacturers and utilities can release. It would also establish a carbon-trade market to encourage polluters to clean up their operation in the name of profit, but it contains loopholes that would give away many of the carbon credits instead of selling them at auction, thus severely weakening the incentives for reducing pollution. Another bill that has been competing for traction with Lieberman-Warner calls for mandatory reduction of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, closer to what many consider to be the scientific consensus as to what needs to be done to avoid the worst effects of global warming. And that bill would sell the carbon credit rather than give them away.

But the Lieberman-Warner bill was chosen because the Democratic leadership has decided that it is what the political reality dictates. "The question is how we make this bill the strongest bill it can possibly be and pass it," Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Boxer said after the markup. "You need to reach the consensus point, and that's what they were able to do." But Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), one of the three subcommittee members to oppose the bill at 's markup, argues that global warming, unlike most other issues that call for legislators to compromise, is a qualitatively different issue that must not take a back seat to politics. Writing on The Hill's Congress Blog he said:

The issue is not what I want versus what Senator Lieberman or Senator Warner or Senator Inhofe may want – and the need to work out an agreement that we can all accept. That’s not the dynamic we face today. The issue today is one of physics and chemistry and what the best scientists in the world believe is happening to our planet because of greenhouse gas emissions. The issue is what we can do, as a nation, along with the international community, to reverse global warming and to save this planet from a catastrophic and irreversible damage which could impact billions of people.

In other words, we are not in a debate now between Bernie Sanders and anyone else. It’s not a debate between what I want or what you want. We are in a debate between science and public policy. And the views that I am bringing forth, to the best of my ability, are the views of the most knowledgeable scientists in America and the world: the people who, among other achievements, have just received the Nobel Peace Prize.

He goes on to address his many specific concerns with the bill. It's a must read.

With Democrats having taken the congressional reins in January after 12 years of Republican control, and global warming pressing more than ever on the American conscience, it's been clear to all that a greenhouse-gas reducing bill would be taken up this session. Lieberman has called his bill "the tipping point ... a breakthrough," and many have called it "the most ambitious global warming initiative in U.S. history." But due to the carbon credit giveaways, others, like president of Clean Air Watch Frank O'Donnell, call it a "political concession to coal-burning companies," like those that make up the electric industry, which generates the most carbon dioxide of any industry in the U.S.

According to the Innovation Online blog, "Cambridge Energy Research Associates recently surveyed utility executives and found that utility companies will face major risks and changes from fuel and capital costs, environmental mandates and potential mergers but the top two business risks are price changes and a carbon mandate." And guess what current member of Congress received the most campaign money from electric utilities in the last election cycle. You've got it -- Joe Lieberman!

It's impossible to prove that Lieberman has pushed forward his version of a global warming bill as a quid-pro-quo-style political favor to his campaign financers. But Lieberman knew that Congress would inevitably pass some kind of global warming bill this session, and its pretty suspicious that he, the senator with the most electric utilities money, would be the one pushing for the bill that puts the least possible amount of financial pressure on the industry.

This post originally appeared on the OpenCongress Gossip Blog on Nov. 2. For Congresspedia's full coverage of global warming legislation, click here.


Conor Kenny has spelled out how the Lieberman/Warner global warming bill (with the Owellian name of "America's Climate Security Act of 2007") is the weakest of several legislative alternatives. He was right to point out current science implies a cut of about 80% (from 1990 level) by 2050 should keep us below 2C (from pre-industrial level). Unfortunately, the climate is more sensitive to carbon in the air than was previously known (the IPCC says about 2C for a doubling from pre-industrial level, while others say 3C, and now due to a better understanding of feedback loops, 6C). This means even an 80% cut is too little too late. Much more important, is that any drastic emissions cuts will warm us up over the short run, and only cool us off over the long run, because our emissions also produce short lived sun dimming pollution that cools us down. If we warm much faster, our ecosystems will be destroyed quickly (at 0.4 C/decade all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, when we are warming now at 0.2 C/decade). Therefore, even if the weaker Lieberman/Warner bill was fully implimented (and I have my doubts it will be in the not unlikely case of war or economic crisis), an ecological catastrophe is predictable. Bottome line: drastic emission cuts are a catastrophically bad strategy. Instead, the CO2 must be removed from the air-I suggest the low cost method of biosequestration. Read my blog at for a more complete explaination.