Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
If trends continue, 2006 may be remembered as the year the world woke up to the global climate crisis. And Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth--which recently opened nationwide at over 400 theaters--may be credited with the wake-up call. The film continues to soar at the box office, and is projected to eclipse Bowling for Columbine as the third highest grossing documentary of all time (excluding IMAX and concert docs). The tremendous buzz caused by the film has jolted the public consciousness, propelling concerned citizens and Congress into concrete action.
Last week, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced the Safe Climate Act, a landmark environmental bill that would dramatically reduce heat-trapping emissions directly responsible for global warming. HR 5642 would freeze emissions in 2010 at the 2009 levels and then cut emissions by 2 percent each year beginning in 2011. By 2020, emissions would be lowered by 5 percent per year, making emissions 80 percent lower than 1990 levels by the year 2050. Senators James Jefforts (I-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are expected to introduce a similar bill in the Senate in coming weeks.
This far-reaching and forward-thinking bill comes at a critical time. On the same day the Safe Climate Act was announced, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released a study of government data, revealing showed that C02 emissions jumped from 2.9 billion metric tons in 1960 to 5.7 billion in 2001--an increase of 95 percent. The analysis, titled "The Carbon Boom," showed that twenty-eight states more than doubled their carbon dioxide emissions between 1960 and 2001. Texas currently ranks first in emissions, contributing 12 percent of the nation's total. Shocked?
The Safe Climate Act is the latest in a flurry of legislative actions to curb global warming. Nine governors--all leaders in state-based efforts at energy efficiency and increased use of renewables--have embraced the Apollo Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade. Over 200 mayors across the country have created Kyoto-complying standards, investing in cleaner vehicles, cutting dependence on oil and promoting efficient and renewable energy projects. And Maryland recently became the eighth state to join a pact mandating limits on C02 emissions.
"The idea that we would commit to cutting emissions is an important new idea that has not been present in previous climate bills. I think in the last year, there has been a major change in how the public and politicians are looking at global warming. It's much more real than it used to be," says David Doniger, policy director for the Climate Center at the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC). "Katrina and Wilma really changed the way people think, and the drumbeat of news and cultural events, culminating in Al Gore's movie, has come at just the right time. It's manifesting itself in the way that political, civic and business leaders are talking about global warming. They see that it can only be stopped if we act soon."