Local efforts have to work alongside national and international ones to make a difference.
Activists fighting climate change in towns all over Maine are coming to Augusta today to share what they know about limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Conservation measures at town halls, schools and public works garages are already in place, and 25 municipalities have signed a pledge to be “Cool Communities,” promising to cut global warming pollution.
This is a good effort, one that will benefit the environment as well as save the communities money. But the real action on climate change will not be in Augusta.
The long-awaited Senate climate change bill was finally introduced this week. Modeled on legislation that passed the House early this summer, this bill would for the first time put a price on carbon emissions and create a market for allowances that will create incentives to conserve.
Like the health care proposals currently before Congress, the climate change legislation also represents a historic shift and the politics will be just as contentious. But even though the votes may be just as close, the rosters may be different, with a divide that is more regional than partisan.
Democrats from rust-belt and mountain states that depend on coal mining and coal-fired power plants will not be likely to support the measure, which makes the votes of Maine’s Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins once again very important.
Snowe and Collins have both been supporters of climate legislation in the past, and their continued support will be needed if this proposal is to succeed. They should remain on board, because even though Maine is not a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as a coastal state it stands to be a big loser if sea levels rise dramatically.
Not all the action will be in Washington. The global climate change conference in Copenhagen is coming up in December, and many developed and developing nations will be looking to see what kind of commitment America is making to address this problem. It will be important to the success of the conference that Congress pass a climate change law.
The cap and trade approach is derided by critics as a tax on energy that would have to be paid by consumers through higher prices. It’s true that there are costs associated with new technology, but higher prices only matter if energy use keeps increasing.
A key part of this battle will be conservation efforts that will be motivated by making the most polluting power sources progressively more expensive over time. As long as the power produced by old coal-fired plants is the cheapest available, there is no incentive to switch to renewables.
That’s why, even though it may be far from the action, the “Cool Communities” approach is a good idea. As these towns learn to cut down on energy use and employ cleaner practices, they will develop a level of expertise that all Mainer’s will eventually have to tap into.