In the Spring of 2009 Mother Lode began its “Countdown to Copenhagen” with letter writing in response to President Barack Obama’s call to the U.S. Congress to provide him a bill to sign that addressed the issue of climate change. This was in preparation for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that starts December 7th, 2009. The President’s hope was that the United States would go to Copenhagen as a “leader not a laggard” in the effort to address the carbon emissions issue.
As our educational and rafting programs began in April, our letters began to flow to California’s Congressional Representative, Henry Waxman, urging him to carry the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) forward in the House. We were very surprised and pleased that Representative Waxman not only reported out the bill, the Democratic leadership managed to pass it, and the ball was handed off to Senator Boxer to carry forward a similar bill in the admittedly tougher sledding of the Senate.
Then Congressional gridlock set in, and not only did ACES go in the political hole, it essentially disappeared off the radar screen. As recently as three weeks ago President Obama was rumored to have decided not to appear personally at Copenhagen at all, but rather concentrate on the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslow instead. Meanwhile, Congress focused its attention on “reforming” the profitcare system that expends 50% of the world’s healthcare dollars, on 4% of the world’s population, while achieving the worst health indices in the industrialized world.
Admittedly, this is discouraging, since the greatest challenge facing the human species should not only be on the radar screen, it should dominate it! The United States is the world’s largest per capita carbon polluter (337.1 btus/capita). China presently produces 1/5 the carbon per capita (58.9 btus/capita) that each U.S. citizen does, while Japan (176.4 btus/capita) and the United Kingdom ((155.7 btus/capita) maintain affluent lifestyles with a fraction of our per capita carbon footprint. Clearly the U.S. has a practical and moral responsibility to be “a leader rather than a laggard” in the battle against climate change going forward. We are, after all, the single largest source of the greenhouse gases placed in the atmosphere by mankind from 1900 to date (318,432 metric tons), and outstrip by a factor of over 3 times the second most prolific cumulative polluter, China (92,950 metric tons).
Our response to Congressional inaction was to act ourselves. We fired off some of the many letters urging action on climate change which were written this Summer by our participants. These were sent to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Senator Boxer. The President then left for Japan and China. Upon his return, there have been interesting developments and reason for new hope.
We now understand the President will attend the more crucial policy making portion of the Conference at Copenhagen and has reaffirmed that action on climate change remains a major priority of his administration. Ironically, this week China, whose inaction is often cited as a major reason that U.S. politicians refuse to move on climate change, indicated it is taking to Copenhagen a commitment to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy and therefore each citizen by 40%! This will be achieved by not only maintaining its present world dominance in the production of carbon efficient technologies, but also by implementing them in its own economy, while expanding its role in research, development, design and installation of such technologies worldwide. This will establish them as a world leader in “walking the talk” on climate change. Doing the math, if the U.S. political gridlock continues, by 2020 the average Chinese citizen will produce approximately 1/8 the the carbon of a U.S. citizen while living in the world’s most rapidly growing economy. It would appear China is not only planning on taking the U.S. to school on climate change, it plans to get rich doing it. Perhaps the “laggard” will get the message when China calls in our debt!
So how much influence did Mother Lode’s letter writers have in all this? Probably not much. However, keep in mind that every little bit helps and it isn’t always how big you are, it’s how just your cause is that counts (remember those 13 California Rivers we helped save). Keep the faith, and vote with your actions as well as at the ballot box!
P.S. For those who wrote letters and provided return addresses, watch your mailbox. You may receive a reply from your elected officials. If so, let us know.