Climate Leadership

Posted Sept. 29, 2009, at 5:04 p.m.

After climate talks at the United Nations and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last week, it is clear that developed countries, such as the United States, will have to show they are serious about combating climate change within their borders before developing countries, especially China and India, will step up their own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. has an opportunity to do this, as a climate change bill that has passed the House of Representatives is slated to be introduced in the Senate this week. The bill, which would cap emissions while allowing companies to trade allowances, is gaining support among American businesses.

In recent days, three national utility companies have said they are leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of its efforts to stop climate change legislation.

“Inaction on climate is not an option,” John Rowe, the CEO of Exelon Corp., said at the American Council for an Energy Economy meeting last week. Exelon is one of the country’s largest utilities and its largest nuclear power operator. Nuclear power has few emissions, so Exelon would face less stringent regulations than companies that generate power from oil, gas or coal.

The previous week, two other utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and PNM Resources Inc. in New Mexico, left the Chamber.

“If Congress does not act,” Mr. Rowe said, “the EPA will and the result will be more arbitrary, more expensive and more uncertain for investors and the industry than a reasonable, market-based legislative solution.”

While there is urgency — an international conference will be held in Denmark in December — the dangers of climate change should not be oversold. Exaggerations from Al Gore and others have fed skepticism. The former vice president’s book and film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” based its scary predictions of rising seas and flooding of coastal cities on the worst-case predictions by the organized climatologists. His prediction of a nearly 20-foot rise was near the worst of the wide range of possibilities the climatologists chose to get a consensus.

Kofi Annan claimed in May that climate change already causes 300 million deaths throughout the world and would cause 500 million deaths and an annual cost of $340 billion by 2030. The former United Nations secretary general’s exaggerated estimates lumped in all earthquake and weather disasters. This led Roger Pielke Jr., an expert in disaster at the University of Colorado, to write that the report was a “methodological embarrassment,” “a poster child for how to lie with statistics,” and “a disservice” to those who take climate change seriously.

Climate change and its costs, both financial and human — the spread of disease, starvation because of droughts and floods, and increased warfare as groups seek out arable land are all predicted by the Pentagon — must be taken seriously.

The climate bill that will soon be before the Senate is an opportunity for the U.S. to show it is taking the problem seriously, and more important, taking appropriate steps to ease it.

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