Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google, summed the effort to pass a US climate change bill as an “epic, epic struggle”.

This summer the House of Representatives passed a climate change bill that aims to reduce carbon emissions and make investments in renewable energy. Recently the Senate has taken up the task of stitching together a bill and well, but real action has been postponed to the spring.

The positive and the frustrating aspects of the American political process are on full display. Climate change legislation languishes and wallows in several Senate committees, and is held captive by the vested interest of the few.

This would all be inconsequential if it wasn’t absolutely urgent for the US to get its act together before UN climate talks in December.

In December, 192 nations will meet in Copenhagen to forge one of the most difficult international agreements ever – a comprehensive climate change treaty that replaces the Kyoto Protocol. The Copenhagen conference is seen by many as one of the last opportunities for the world to lock in a process that reduces greenhouse gases in time to stave off disaster.

Copenhagen will not only be a historic gathering of world leaders, scientists, and thought leaders – it’ll be a critical one as well. The time that remains, the window that we have for a climate change deal for the world’s 6 billion people is closing.

It’s an understatement to only suggest that the stakes are high. But success in Copenhagen hinges largely on what the US will do domestically and will commit to in Copenhagen. If American negotiators head into Copenhagen without clarity as to what its domestic position is, other countries are unlikely to sign a binding deal.

For all our trumpeting of American leadership in the world, our almost instinctive belief in American exceptionalism  – on the most critical issue facing the world today, the world’s greatest power is missing.

But why, what’s holding us back?

Right now, there are currently 2,810 climate lobbyists registered in Washington DC. That’s five lobbyists for every member of Congress. In the lead up to the June 26th House vote, more than 460 new businesses and interest groups lobbied Congress on its climate change legislation. We’re unable to decipher how much money was actually spent on specific climate change lobbying efforts as businesses don’t have to detail their expenses for each separate issue they are lobbying in Congress. But say we assume that the issue consumed only 10% of their time. That amount comes to more than $27 million in the second quarter, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

It’s been reported that US airways spent $410,000 in the third quarter lobbying on the cap-and-trade system that’s a part of what’s being proposed in the Senate.

Not all of these efforts are aimed at defeating climate change. But, a lot of them are, and even more are aiming to slow down the pace of change and dilute the level of carbon reduction targets that scientist say are necessary. Many of the global warming cynics of the 90’s now argue that climate change legislation will reduce jobs and hurt the economy. While embracing global warming as fact, their lobbying efforts focus on making sure they can still make a profit in the old energy economy.

The election of President Obama brought hope in the US and foreign capitals around the world that the US would renew its commitment to work multilaterally to address the world’s toughest problems. Change is in fact hard.

And on the defining challenge of this generation and the next, it is the efforts of those vested in the status quo largely inhibiting progress. It’s a generational failing or more harshly a generational atrocity. How old will you be in 2050? By then, those who are blocking progress now probably won’t be alive. But you will be, when the consequences of our inaction on climate change will come to bear.

If you’re looking for Congress to do the right thing, because it’s the right and moral course of action to take, that’s not likely to happen. The US government has to step up, so must youth as well. A climate change agreement won’t happen without youth energy and involvement similar to what it was in the 2008 election. And, it has to be, for no generation has more at stake – our possibilities at peace and security, a clean economy, a sustainable and just world – than young people.


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