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Swept in By a Hurricane, Climate Change Returns to Washington

Environment  (tags: animals, climate-change, CO2emissions, destruction, ecosystems, environment, globalwarming, government, greenhousegases, habitatdestruction, healthconditions, nature, oceans, politics, pollution, research, science, Sustainabililty, water, weather, wildlif )

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Climate change used to seem abstract, like something to protect our grandchildren from. Now it's something we want to protect ourselves from.

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Kit B (276)
Monday November 12, 2012, 6:44 am
(Photo Credit: After-and-before Sandy photographs from coastal New Jersey. NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr)

After two years as the new third rail of American politics, climate change is poised for a return to Capitol Hill.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and this summer's drought, the political atmosphere seems to have changed. Washington observers say the cost of extreme weather are too big and obvious to be ignored.

What form climate legislation could take remains undetermined, but the Democrats' failed 2010 cap-and-trade bill won't likely be reheated. There's a demand for new ideas—and, at least for now, those ideas will be heard.

"Insurance companies are talking about this. Governors and mayors are. Communities all over the country are having serious conversations about resilience and extreme weather," said Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, a centrist advocacy group.

Continued Pooley, "It used to seem abstract, like something to protect our grandchildren from. Now it's something we want to protect ourselves and our living children from. It doesn't mean there won't be battles over the specifics of the ideas, but it does mean we might be able to have a grown-up conversation."

Pooley's optimism may ring hollow to people who remember the 2010 climate change bill, a cap-and-trade plan for carbon pollution that imploded in a storm of partisan acrimony, or see in the post-election political landscape little reason to think Congress will achieve any more bipartisan agreement now than in the past several gridlocked years.

There are, however, some practical reasons that the new Congress will be less dysfunctional, and climate change, so notably absent from the presidential campaign, was thrust by Sandy into the national spotlight.

Climate change's influence on Sandy is actually still uncertain—it's safe to say that unnatural warming added an extra 8 inches to eastern U.S. sea levels, but harder to know if an abnormally off-kilter polar jet stream kept the storm from moving harmlessly out to sea—but more apparent in other calamities.

A recent report by German insurance giant Munich Re put the U.S. weather disaster bill at $1 trillion since the early 1980s, with climate change as a main driver. While the economy is still the top priority among U.S. voters, climate's economic impacts are more evident than ever.

"We all need to come to terms with the cost of climate change," wrote the editors of in a recent editorial. Michael Bloomberg, the Republican mayor of New York City, endorsed President Obama precisely because he was more open than Mitt Romney to addressing climate issues.

Of course, anything that emerges from Congress will need bipartisan support, but Democrats and Republicans have quietly started talking about climate, said Josh Freed, director of energy policy at centrist think tank Third Way. Ideas have been floated that both sides could agree on.

"If you break the challenges that climate change presents down into their parts, there are real opportunities over the next four years," Freed said. "The bright side of Congress not having worked much over the last two years is that we have a surplus of ideas that could work."

Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at R Street, a free market think tank, said that "we're starting to hear more of these discussions happening in Washington." A return to 2010's cap-and-trade program would be doomed, he said, a sentiment echoed by Freed and Pooley, but conservatives might be open to other approaches.

An opening piece of bipartisan common ground could be mitigation and adaptation: infrastructure improvements that make municipalities less vulnerable to extreme weather. Mayor Bloomberg's own PlaNYC project is a blueprint for some of these approaches.

Reforms that dovetail neatly with budget savings could also be popular, said Moylan. These could include cutting federal subsidies and insurance for development in sensitive areas, such as coastal wetlands and barrier islands.

Continued federal investment in clean energy and green technology is also up for debate. Many Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives, have resisted this spending, though it has been productive, especially in pushing electric and hybrid electric-gasoline cars to the verge of widespread consumer adoption, Freed said.

A less contentious option may be to encourage private investments. Legislation proposed by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) would give financial incentives to greentech investors that are currently restricted to investments in fossil fuel-based projects.

The energy industry itself will also come under scrutiny in the next several years, especially as the Environmental Protection Agency begins regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the largest U.S. source of carbon pollution. That plan upheld in multiple court decisions but is opposed by many Republicans.

"I think we're going to see a big fight as the administration moves forward on setting those standards," said Alden Meyer, strategy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a liberal advocacy group.

That fight is probably unavoidable messy, but it may be easier to look at pollution from natural gas.

While natural gas is far cleaner-burning than coal or oil, extracting it from the ground involves a certain amount of accidental leakage of methane and other extremely potent greenhouse gases.

"Stopping those leaks could give us the same benefits of shutting down one-third of all coal-fired power plants in the country," said Pooley, whose Environmental Defense Fund is working with nine natural gas companies to reduce methane leaks. "There's no law saying you need to reduce that leakage, and whether that happens at the state or federal level, that needs to happen."

One idea that's received widespread attention is a federal carbon tax, in which a per-ton tax is levied on carbon emissions by companies. While this might seem anathema to Republicans, and has indeed by opposed by some conservatives, including the Heritage Foundation, some are open to the idea.

"It has some pitfalls, but I think there's potential for some sort of discussion around a revenue-neutral carbon tax," said Moylan. Unlike a cap-and-trade approach, with its complicated markets in carbon credits, a carbon tax would be relatively straightforward, Moylan said. It could also be offset with cuts in other taxes, ultimately minimizing economic impacts.

"You can have a conversation around that," Moylan said. "You can have a debate about what the contours might look like, and what might be necessary to get people not necessarily motivated by climate issues to buy in."

Of course, if other countries, especially developing countries and fast-growing nations like China and Brazil, don't also address climate change, action by the United States won't be sufficient. But if the U.S. doesn't doesn't lead, it can't push other countries to do their share.

Freed said that climate and energy issues probably won't take center stage for months yet, as the so-called fiscal cliff and tax policy reform are more pressing. After that, climate will be on the table.

"President Obama talked about climate change and innovation in virtually the same breath," said Audubon Society president David Yarnold of the president's victory speech. "I think that's a really great reminder that there are solutions that are possible. It's not going to be easy, but it can be done."
*********Very interesting additional sources within body of article at Visit Site**********

—By Brandon Keim | The Climate Desk at Mother Jones Magazine |

Arielle S (313)
Monday November 12, 2012, 9:48 am
There is so much that could be done - and now that so many have been hit over the head with climate change, maybe some of it will be done.

Kit B (276)
Monday November 12, 2012, 10:25 am

There is so much that must be done. Finally, this is a part of the political dialogue. Now we must support the new ideas to move this along. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way...

angela whatley (0)
Monday November 12, 2012, 10:39 am

Jerry B (128)
Monday November 12, 2012, 10:41 am
Noted..thanks Kit!

Mitchell D (87)
Monday November 12, 2012, 10:47 am
Okay, so it seems it is time to apologize to President Al Gore, all you buffoons and puppets, and "Junk Science" know-it-alls!!
At risk of sounding like a broken record, the study financed, earlier this year, by one of the Koch brothers, with a climate skeptic doing the work, a Prof Muller, found enough evidence for climate change that Prof. Muller changed his stripes, when faced with the EVIDENCE that he uncovered.
EVIDENCE, is what ought to run policy decisions, not agenda.
Even The Holy See eventually agreed that Copernicus and Galileo were right!!

Jane H (139)
Monday November 12, 2012, 11:25 am
I hope and pray we can encourage Washington to do every thing it can possibly do to mitigate climate change---

Kit B (276)
Monday November 12, 2012, 11:31 am

I think we have to just move beyond the "debates" we can afford more death, destruction, failed crops, disappearing glaciers, warming oceans and the results of profit first oil company spills. The word spill is associated with something accidental, that would mean that all possible means were used to prevent this, but we know that is not the case.

As Governor Cuomo of New York said: "Extreme weather, I believe, is here to stay," he said. "Climate change is a reality. We can have a great political argument about the causes. I want to pass that step. That political argument has gridlocked us from moving forward for far too long."

Moving forward, the first question has to be "what should we rebuild, where and how," Cuomo said. "Maybe Mother Nature is telling us something. One time, two times, three times. There are places that are going to be victimized by storms. We know that now."

Past Member (0)
Monday November 12, 2012, 1:37 pm
Fingers crossed.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Monday November 12, 2012, 2:37 pm
Thanks for another good post Kit.

Marie Therese Hanulak (30)
Monday November 12, 2012, 3:30 pm
I doubt that we can still undo the damage done to the planet. Whatever happens we deserve it!

Terry V (30)
Monday November 12, 2012, 4:26 pm

Earth Cry

Mother Nature Needs Us

greenplanet e (155)
Monday November 12, 2012, 6:08 pm
I hope that fossil fuel emissions will be seriously cut back.

Monica D (580)
Monday November 12, 2012, 6:36 pm
Climate change is a serious issue. Green solutions are needed.

JL A (281)
Monday November 12, 2012, 6:41 pm
One thing we can do to help progress actually happen is to write regularly to those who represent us in Congress on this subject--at least a couple times a month. The specifics can differ each time (e.g., which bill to co-sponsor or vote for or against) since it probably will require as many bills as the budget takes to do sufficient for us to notice in our lifetimes. Also, every possible petition can facilitate.

Past Member (0)
Monday November 12, 2012, 11:11 pm
Thanks for the update.

Frans Badenhorst (582)
Tuesday November 13, 2012, 5:58 am
It saddens me a lot....

Past Member (0)
Tuesday November 13, 2012, 6:07 am

Gene J (290)
Tuesday November 13, 2012, 12:40 pm
"A recent report by German insurance giant Munich Re put the US weather disaster bill at $1 trillion since the early 1980s, with climate change as a main driver. While the economy is still the top priority among US voters, climate's economic impacts are more evident than ever."

If nothing else gets their attention it will be this. Republican's have shown they don't care about people, but they damn well do about dollars. And who can afford this kind of repair bill a couple times a year, and more often in the near future? The cost in lives won't trouble them but the cost to repair their beach houses will. One hopes.

Lois Jordan (63)
Wednesday November 14, 2012, 4:06 pm
Noted with much thanks, Kit. Looks like they didn't take previous nudges by Mother Nature seriously, and maybe she finally knocked some sense into them this time. One word I haven't heard much regarding this is "catastrophe." There has been a war on semantics far too long from climate change deniers, (guess they didn't like the term "Global Warming").
Good comment by J.L. that we must continue to let our Congress critters know that we want some movement and results. And, Gene is unfortunately correct about the loss of money from the wealthiest. Just sickens me that millions of middle and lower income citizens can lose everything and no one pays as much attention until the wealthy start losing their shirts.

MmAway M (507)
Friday November 16, 2012, 4:40 pm
Good Grief! This should of been jumpped on decades ago. WAKE UP! This is GRAVE!

Klaus Peters (14)
Monday December 3, 2012, 11:44 pm
The little we do to change our life style is not enough, Solar and Windpower is a drop in the ocean, in fact we are polluting more than ever. If governments globally sit down and really make an efffort they will never agree, even if they did, we left our run far too late.
Governments always like to blame cars, it is a tax cow they can milk forever. But all the wars we had over the last 100 years were by far the biggest polluters of all time in human history. It is not only the war, but the lead up to wars. Millions of tons of fossil fuel are being used to feed the war industrie to make steel and aluminium etc. for them to build weapons. But we never hear about that, as for cars, they use half the fuel they did 10 years. But prices doubled since, greed is the doom of this planet. It will never change and the self destruct button was pushed years ago by the greedy.
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