Making sweeping promises about climate change is one thing; guaranteeing execution for those promises is another. In making his announcement on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged that such promises can be easy to make, but hard to fulfill. That’s not a criticism of Biden, it’s just something that gets put to the test when we’re dealing with issues that require full commitment on the scale of America’s.
The tax on carbon dioxide that Biden announced is important, but even he acknowledges it’s not “a silver bullet” to address climate change, because making changes to energy sources and production have many forms that won’t be up to the amount of the tax. He specifically said we have to “take [this] one step at a time.”
But in his call for other countries to match America’s climate change rhetoric, the vice president spoke directly to America’s role. Countries across the world look to the U.S. for leadership. If we lead, not only will we set the example; we’ll also win new allies, because none other than the former President of Mexico and current President of Canada shared their thoughts that “America is now setting the bar and others will follow.” All of this is good news, since for far too long, our nation has ignored and put the burden of global climate change on others. We can’t continue down this road of not acting, so let’s help ensure that other countries follow America’s lead.
Biden called on that leadership Saturday. Climate leadership doesn’t come in an individual or a bureaucrat, it comes in the form of complete and complete economic and technological transformation. Biden is right when he points out that solving climate change is going to require action on multiple fronts. And while he admits that pledges made now can only be fulfilled gradually, if we act now we can be the catalyst for the change that’s going to transform the world.
At this moment, the U.S. is actually ahead of the curve. Most experts suggest that our country is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 13 percent over the next decade. And based on these latest numbers, the nation will cut 1.4 percent of carbon emissions this year. But since America has already cut emissions by more than a billion tons, those reductions mean that, without further action, the U.S. could have to renege on its pledge just to meet the standards that other countries have agreed upon.
Moreover, with demand for oil continually growing around the world, it’s unlikely that a “historic” investment of $11 billion will be enough to fundamentally change the energy system and usher in a new era of renewables.
Instead, it’s now time for the U.S. to go beyond what’s called “meaningful” pledges, let’s take the next step and start the transformation that leaders all around the world expect us to make. For example, our ability to cut down emissions this year alone will give us the same amount of potential over five years. And between 2012 and 2020, we can begin a “concerted effort” to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 33 percent.
By taking tangible steps that go far beyond simply passing a climate change law, we can really set the stage for the transformation that’s going to lead to clean energy and a healthier planet. This shift in our economy would create huge numbers of new jobs, and a decline in carbon dioxide emissions would help put an end to global warming as we know it.
All of this is important, but what’s at stake is much bigger.