“Incrementalism is worse than useless in the face of the climate crisis. Just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t stop climate change by doing 5% of what is necessary. Or even 25%. If we trigger tipping points, the heating process will gather its own momentum and there will be nothing we can do to stop it. Doing too little to avoid those tipping points is functionally equivalent to doing nothing.”

Australia senator Christine Milne

There is a meeting in Copenhagen at the end of the year to formulate a global treaty and action on climate change. The big problem facing those negotiating this global treaty – the developing world demands that those who have caused the climate change problem and who still have huge carbon footprints lead in reducing their emissions. The developing world will soon be producing the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. A recent initiative by Lord Stern for developed countries to take ownership of the emissions produced through their manufacture of goods located for cost in China and the developing world is an effort to make a breakthrough.

China and the developing world are watching the US to see if it is serious about combatting climate change. Waxman-Markey, the bill and the legislative process, sends a clear signal: not very. A leaky, easily subverted bill where if everything goes right – getting through Congress without being further watered down and then expertly administered over a long introductory period – there will be maybe a 4-7% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Not a strong, positive signal.

Given the existing climate change science, a 30-40% reduction by 2020 should be the US target.The US going to Copenhagen aiming for 30-40% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 at home and globally would inspire hope.

Or if the US went to Copenhagen saying ‘China, India, the developing world: we need to keep coal and dirty oil in the ground; we are legislating a 10 year schedule to end production and use of coal and dirty oil; we think there should be such a global schedule to end the use of coal. (Without an effective, working and safe CCS – we will try and develop CCS for you too.)’

Or if the US went to Copenhagen after legislation to ration American fossil fuel use so that within some not too distant future contraction-convergence would be possible with the US and developed countries aiming for globally equitable >1mT annual carbon footprints, then we wouldn’t be over a tipping point to failure at Copenhagen already.

China and the developing world are watching our actions not our words. The treaty and action that will be agreed to in December will in all probability be like Waxman-Markey: far too little emission reduction because systemic change is off the table; a weak semi-agreement on paper which most will understand as subvertable. It might be the best deal that negotiators can achieve but it will be failure for even those that still cling to 450 as the ceiling, 2050 as the target date, and still believe that mitigation is possible with instruments and regulation still firmly within BAU.

And make no mistakew: we all lose. Climate change is a humanity threatening problem and we are today close to if not over a tipping point to potentially runaway, uncontrollable warming. An end to civilization; die-off for billions; extinction for most of the species with which we presently share creation on this small blue planet.

John Rawls, the US philosopher has a useful lens for us: his Veil of Ignorance. If you did not know whether you were in the present generation or one of future generations and you had to decide what to do about climate change, would you be happy with Waxman-Markey? Instead of real leadership and real legislation to keep coal and dirty oil in the ground? Instead of real leadership and real legislation for massive systemic change in the next decade to sharply reduce our developed world footprint which is the cause of this humanity threatening problem?

Most of those in favor of Waxman-Markey argue that the bill is just a beginning step and the best we can achieve right now and that, yes, we’d love to have the example of keeping coal in the ground for China but it’s not gonna happen, so Waxman-Markey and the many other initiatives happening in the US and the developed world are our best bet. Bullshit. Lies we tell ourselves as addicts as we do next to nothing wasting precious time. There is no time left for climate change mitigation that can’t be Draconian on coal or our footprint, can’t enact a high three figure price on carbon, can’t challenge the growth economy imperative.

The world is watching and Waxman-Markey is not nearly good enough – it is only what is currently possible in political and economic BAU. Waxman-Markey is not even a good beginning because climate change is now an emergency after several decades of procrastinating.

In PLAN-B 3.0 Lester Brown offers a plan to achieve 80% emission reduction by 2020. We need a global deal with this level of mitigation in order to quickly get back under 350 ppm before the Arctic ice cap melts away irrevocably and we pass Hansen’s point of no return. American leadership is essential, pivotal. Failure is not an option.

bill (at) pacificfringe.net