Ten years after President Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto climate change agreement, the United States is still dragging its feet on global warming.
On March 28, 2001, the Bush administration announced it was leaving the international protocol. When President Obama assumed office eight years later, there were high hopes for a policy reversal. As president-elect, Obama had said, "Delay is no longer an option" on climate change. "The stakes are too high. The consequences too serious." More than two years into his presidency, his actions have belied his words.
At Copenhagen in December 2009 -- the most crucial climate change conference of the Obama presidency -- Obama was a huge hindrance. He refused to accept a binding agreement. The European Union, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the United States took the lead. Instead, Obama abandoned the stage.
A follow-up global meeting a year later in Cancun, Mexico, still failed to reach a firm, obligatory accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama is not completely to blame for the dismal U.S. record during his presidency. Congress is heavily populated by lawmakers who refuse to recognize the truth of climate change. Freshman Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., actually suggested during his election campaign that by going to Copenhagen, Obama was in league with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to end capitalism. Only one of the new Republican senators (Illinois' Mark Kirk) fully accepts that global warming is happening. At least half of Republican House members question the phenomenon. On March 15, all the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to reject three Democratic amendments acknowledging the reality of global warming.
All this political posturing -- plus a multimillion dollar propaganda effort funded by the fossil fuel industry -- has led to confusion in the minds of many people. A Gallup poll this month finds that 51 percent of Americans "worry a great deal or fair amount" about climate change, down from 66 percent in 2008.
This is the worst kind of ostrich-like behavior. A 2009 study from a think tank headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan revealed that global warming is causing 300,000 deaths annually and affecting 300 million people. By 2030, the report warns, half a million individuals could die every year as a result of climate change.
The stakes are too high and the consequences too serious on global warming. Obama and Congress need to make up for a lost decade and act urgently to tackle this problem.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "U.S. Wrong to Approve Saudi Invasion of Bahrain."
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