First Steps on Climate Change

By Representative Tom Udall (D-NM)

As Congress takes its initial steps to address the global warming crisis, I am learning a lesson that is as true in public policy as it is in sky diving: the first step is always the hardest.

Thanks to the work of activists from Al Gore to the Union of Concerned Scientists, people from all walks of life finally have begun to pay attention to global warming. Large majorities in countries around the world now acknowledge that global warming constitutes a serious and immediate threat to the world’s ecology and economy. Yet strong Congressional action to address the problem often has seemed a distant hope.The world wants action, but we have little experience with the kind and magnitude of action that the problem demands. To effectively address global warming, we must rethink our whole approach to the politics and economics of energy. We must reshape our energy markets to internalize an externality of global proportions. America did it with the Apollo program, and we must do it again. However, it will require renewed trust between citizens and government, and between nations.

Unfortunately, that trust has not yet been built. In the U.S. Congress, regulating carbon dioxide and other emissions presents a monumental challenge because of the far-reaching implications for our nation’s economy. The science underpinning the need for emissions reductions is indisputable, but the American people must see that a plan for tackling global warming can be good for business and workers. On the international level, no country wants to accept curbs on emissions until they know that other countries will also do their part. The United States, which produces 36 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, must play a leadership role on this issue, but we cannot succeed alone. Through our example and our diplomacy, we must build a global consensus that every country will do what it takes to protect our planet. We are all in this together, and the solution requires a global effort.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tasked the 110th Congress with crafting legislation to combat global warming. The House took a first step this past August when my Renewable Electricity Standard amendment to the energy bill comfortably passed the House. My amendment requires America’s investor-owned electricity supplying utilities to provide 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures by 2020. Studies have shown that an RES will reduce global warming emissions at a rate equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road. A more comprehensive global warming bill is needed, however. I believe it must set achievable emissions reductions goals without harming the U.S. economy. I introduced such a bill during the 109th Congress and will be doing so again soon. These measures are modest because they set achievable goals and protect our workers and our economy. But they are revolutionary because they set a precedent for concerted action against climate change.

Through pragmatic measures like these, Americans will learn that environmental sustainability can produce jobs, encourage investment and boost the economy. Leaders around the world will learn that America will be part of the solution to global climate change, not part of the problem. With policies like these, we will finally take that crucial first step towards a sustainable future.