Convincing Congress of Climate Change

Last Tuesday, Whitman’s Campus Climate Challenge met with Walla Walla’s very Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris to discuss climate change. We had met with her before in Washington D.C. where she had made it clear that she knows very little about the issue. She subtly avoided admitting that climate change is happening and when I asked her if she had read any of the reports by the IPCC (the top 2,500 scientists from around the world who all agree that climate change exists), she asked me who the IPCC is. In our meeting last week she asked us what the Markey-Waxman bill (the main piece of legislation on climate change) was. Fortunately, this time we had come prepared and we presented her with both the full text of the bill and the IPCC executive summaries.Campus Climate Challenge with Congresswoman McMorris

It astounded me how little an elected representative knew about one of the greatest issues facing our world and one of the top priorities of this administration. Her concerns about climate change seemed to be three-fold.
1. It doesn’t matter what the U.S. does because India and China are going to keep emitting C02
I tried to explain to her that industrialized countries are responsible for 3/4 of human-caused emissions and 2/3 of current emissions. Although India and China are catching up, they are not the real problem. Both India and China have said that they want to have more renewable energy but their first priority has to be on helping moving people out of poverty. America needs to take a lead on this issue before we can expect other countries to follow.

2. Cap and Trade will allow the government to declare winners and losers
While cap and trade will put a price on carbon that may hurt some heavily polluting industries, many businesses will benefit. In fact, many have already been calling for a cap and trade system. A voluntary system has gotten us slight improvements in energy efficiency but has yet to get us any major reduction.

I am hoping to refine the above points and write Congresswoman McMorris a letter answering some of the questions she raised during our meetings.

But what worries even me more that Walla Walla’s Congresswoman lack of knowledge on this issue is that her views seem to be widespread in Congress. Obama’s Science Chief John Holdren just announced that the administration might agree to auction only a portion of the emissions allowances granted at first under a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas pollution. This is essentially giving away permits and setting a bad precedent for the future of the cap and trade system.