Global Warming: Back to the Future

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 12:50 PM EST

Against a backdrop of more bad news about global warming coming from top scientists in Paris, the Sierra Club and American Solar Energy Society unveiled a plan in Washington this morning that would dramatically cut carbon emissions. What's so startling about their plan is that it closely tracks similar schemes put forth amidst the energy crisis of the 1970s. And those plans, in turn, were modeled on U.S. experiences with solar energy back in the 1920s. Can environmentalists in Congress override the oil industry to get any of this put into practice? It seems doubtful.

Yesterday Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight hearing on global warming depicted an administration determined to rework scientific findings to coincide with the interests of the oil industry. And while in the president's State of the Union speech he made a vague endorsement of tougher motor vehicle emissions standards, He made no mention of regulations to implement such standards. Bush, his father, and President Reagan were forthright in their opposition to government regulation across the board, including auto emissions. For years the oil and auto industries have successfully blocked tougher standards in one administration after another, and in one Congress after another (Republican and Democratic). Indeed, the two key figures in opposition to standards have been two Democrats -- John Dingell, the Michigan congressman whose wife long worked as a GM lobbyist in Washington, and who is widely viewed as the auto industry spokesman on Capitol Hill. The other powerful opponent of tougher standards has been former Senate majority leader Robert Byrd. He hails from West Virginia, the historic bastion of the coal industry, whose product creates an enormous air pollution problem.

The U.S. can reduce carbon emissions "by 1,100-1,200 million metric tons annually by 2030 with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone," according to the scheme put forward by the Sierra Club and ASES. Most of the reduction in carbon emissions
(82 percent) can be obtained by solar, wind, and increased energy efficiency. The remainder could come from biomass, bio fuels, and geothermal sources.

According to its sponsors, "this plan would achieve the U.S. share of reductions required to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at 450-500 parts per million and limit additional average temperature rise to 1°C above 2000 levels."

The report goes on to say "renewable energy has the potential to provide approximately 40 percent of the U.S. electric need projected for 2030 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA)."

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