USA and green targets

For months there’s been accumulating evidence that targets suggested in Copenhagen in 2009 for CO2 emissions and energy diversification are being quietly sidelined by Governments and companies alike.

With the recession hitting economies across the world, the focus in Europe has shifted to reducing debt levels and painful cutbacks in public services. With lay-offs common and unemployment at high levels, green activists are having a hard time to make their voices heard.

Arriving in the USA last week to meet our new grandson in Seattle, we had little confidence that things would look that much different here.

But we were in for some surprises. The first came on Day 1 with a knock on the front door. Two young men from Environment Washington were there to seek support for a campaign to get a vulnerable area of the Cascade mountains incorporated into two adjoining national parks; and show Jim McDermott, local member of the US House of Representatives the strength of local support.

“Why two of you?”, I asked. “That’s an easy one”, said Max, who had already persuaded me to join the campaign with a $15 contribution. “We have got 43 new graduate volunteers out on the streets this morning and I’m showing one of them, Ryan how we do the canvassing. You’ve been a great catch!”

Environment Washington is a NGO running local campaigns on environmental issues, and is affiliated to Environment America. I was impressed by the numbers involved and the time they were spending on door knocking to gain support for local environmental issues. Think global, act local!

But the next thing that got my attention just after that knock on the door, was a trailer appearing on the front page of the NYT (20 April 2013). President Obama was planning an announcement shortly of new regulations to limit carbon dioxide omissions from existing and future power plants across the country – potentially a highly significant move.

This afternoon the NYT report of his speech at Georgetown University earlier today (June 25th) came through on the web. Stating that “Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction”, the President made clear his view that the effect of human activity on climate change was beyond doubt.

Measures to limit greenhouse gases from power plants will be put in place as well as federal monies spent to promote renewable energy supplies and support areas damaged by the new weather conditions. The actions will be introduced via executive orders to avoid spoiling action in a divided Congress.

The details have still to be worked out and opposition is certain, but this is a bold and welcome move, which has been widely supported. Five experts including Al Gore and Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN’s climate secretariat have written in The Guardian 25 June in strong support.

We must hope that Obama can push this one through. If he can, this may become the issue for which he is best remembered when he leaves office at the end of his second term. More details and comment on the speech can be found on the Environment America website.