Initially, it sounded like a great idea. Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey announced that the American Clean Energy & Security Act (Markey-Waxman) would end years of Bush era foot-dragging on global warming and get the U.S. moving toward a solution. But after starting off far short of what science requires, Markey-Waxman has now morphed, under intense fossil fuel lobbying, from an act of climate-protection to one of polluter-protection.
Our economy, environment, and arguably our very survival depend on getting the response to climate change right before time runs out. So it’s important to understand why Markey-Waxman misses the mark, and what a real climate bill needs. In short, Markey-Waxman shamefully removes the Environmental Protection Agencyís (EPA) authority to regulate carbon, locks in many years of new dirty coal power plant construction, and relies upon “offsets” – proven to be highly fraud-prone – in place of real carbon reductions.
Markey-Waxman is worse than a non-solution. If passed it will keep a real solution off the table for years to come – long enough to miss the critical window Ö and bring on catastrophic warming.
Perhaps of greatest concern, its target for emissions reduction is 20 times weaker than the minimum requirement for averting the worst of climate change, as set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And even this IPCC requirement is now looking dangerously inadequate in light of recent science.
The bill’s claim of a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 is misleading. In fact, when measured against the conventional 1990 baseline, Markey-Waxman aims for only a 1.2 percent reduction by 2020 – far short of the 25 percent that the IPCC said was needed at a minimum.
Furthermore, recent scientific studies indicate that even the IPCC goal of 450 parts per million CO2 is too lax. Many scientists now believe that if we get to 450 ppm we will eventually melt global ice sheets and raise sea level by over 200 feet. This would put most population centers underwater, bringing the Massachusetts coastline inland nearly as far as route 495.
The emerging picture indicates that 350 ppm CO2 – not 450 ppm – is the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon. This is evident in the fact that dangerous amplifying warming mechanisms are already occurring at our present level of 387 ppm. These amplifying mechanisms include the dramatic loss of sea and land ice (reducing solar-reflective surfaces), and the release of unprecedented quantities of methane (a GHG 25 times more potent than CO2), that is now bubbling out of a previously frozen seabed. These “feedback loops” can trigger accelerating and irreversible warming. The Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that there are already 350,000 annual deaths from floods, droughts, food and water shortages and other climate impacts. Much stronger impacts are still in the pipeline, even with today’s 387 ppm, which is due to the time it takes for the large ocean to respond, and for all the ice to melt away. But it will get much worse as these levels continue to rise.
Even the trivial 1.2 percent emissions reduction by 2020 contained in Markey-Waxman exists only on paper. In fact, the bill allows astronomical “offsets” – letting polluters increase emissions by funding dubious emission reduction projects often halfway around the globe. Using these unreliable offsets, emissions will not even return to 2005 levels until 2026!
In addition to stripping EPA of its authority to reduce CO2 emissions through the Clean Air Act, Markey-Waxman allows innumerable new dirty coal-fired power plants to be built before 2020, provided they commit to installing hypothetical Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) “retrofits” by 2025. The bill puts heavy, unconditional taxpayer investment into this expensive, ineffective and potentially unsafe technology.
Markey-Waxman is worse than a non-solution. If passed it will keep a real solution off the table for years to come – long enough to miss the critical window before planetary feedback mechanisms take the matter out of humanity’s control and bring on catastrophic warming. We urge Representatives Markey and Waxman to withdraw this measure. We urge all who are concerned about a viable economy, secure jobs, and a livable planet for our children to join in the call to replace Markey-Waxman with a real climate bill that honestly addresses the risk of climate catastrophe.
Maggie Zhou, PhD, and Jill Stein, MD, write on behalf of Secure Green Future, a project of Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities. Learn more by visiting SecureGreenFuture.org.