Defenders View - The Battle over Global Warming: What's at Stake

© Krista Schlyer

© Krista Schlyer

Global warming legislation faces an incredibly tough battle before it can be enacted by this Congress, and overcoming Big Oil and other entrenched corporate interests is going to take all the strength and ingenuity that conservationists and their congressional allies can muster.

Make no mistake, the stakes in this legislative battle are incredibly high, especially for our children and future generations. It's safe to assume that all members of Congress would agree with the near sanctity of our duty to do right by what our Constitution calls "our Posterity." But the real test is what they do with the issue squarely before them in legislation offering a tradeoff between benefitting current constituents and entrenched corporate interests, on the one hand, and protecting our children and future generations, on the other. And whether the media speak of it in this way or not, such a tradeoff is at the heart of the global warming legislation now before Congress.

There is scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are warming our climate and causing major changes in the environment. These changes will so severely harm the natural world that we rely on for our own survival that the welfare of future generations will be seriously damaged if we do not do something now. Essentially all natural ecosystems will be impacted, and 35 percent to 40 percent of the world's species could be driven to extinction. And even the most basic life-support services provided by nature—such as cleaning our water, regulating the air we breathe, decomposing waste, fertilizing our crops, controlling erosion and limiting extreme weather events—would be permanently harmed, along with the recreational and aesthetic values that nature provides.

This prospect should challenge us all to address the moral question of how we exercise our duty to future generations. To be clear: There is no benefit that can offset the severe loss of our wildlife and natural resources that a warming climate is already causing, and which scientists say will continue for at least a hundred years even if greenhouse gas emissions are severely cut tomorrow. This is truly "generational theft" and its impacts will last forever.

If we are to honor our duty to future generations, Congress needs to move quickly to enact legislation that severely cuts greenhouse gas emissions and provides dedicated funding to safeguard as much of our natural heritage as possible. Doing so will require prevailing over members whose opposition to either or both aspects of this approach, regardless of their stated rationale, really boils down to preferring to continue subsidizing our current unsustainable life style at the expense of the future.

While the outcome of the battle is far from certain, we are fortunate to have strong leadership in major committees charged with crafting legislation. At this writing, the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, ably led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has approved legislation and reported it to the full House—and the committee bill, although not as strong as needed, is firm in establishing the principle that emissions must be drastically cut and assistance provided for conservation. Now we need to build on this promising start, on the House floor and in the Senate, where the leadership of environmental champion Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will be critical.

Hopefully, before the Congress takes final action, all of its members will remember the serious duty they hold to future generations. To give short shrift to that duty, particularly when there are ways to honor it while still lessening any negative impacts resulting from shifting from our destructive dependence on global-warming-producing-fossil fuels, would not just be shortsighted, but terribly wrong.

More Articles from Summer 2009

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Help is on the way for right whales in crowded East Coast shipping lanes
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Wolves in Alaska are under the gun like never before.
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