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The old football metaphor “three yards and a cloud of dust” aptly describes the slow but crucial progress recently made in the Senate on having the federal government of the United States seriously address global warming.

But why is progress at the federal level so difficult?

It’s not that the scientific findings aren’t clear.  To make sure government leaders have gotten the message the National Academies of Science for all G8 countries (including the U.S.), plus the scientific Academies of China, India, and Brazil, issued a joint statement on June 7 that stated:

“The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action … Failure to implement significant reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions now, will make the job much harder in the future.”

It’s not that there hasn’t been significant progress in other areas such as the business community.

For example, business leaders in industries that would have to make significant changes are starting to take the lead in changing their company’s behavior.

Listen to what they have to say:

James E. Rogers, CEO of Cinergy, a utility with $4.6 billion in annual revenue that produces 95 percent of its electricity from burning coal: “…I am convinced that it is prudent to take action now to address what we do know (about climate change).”

Paul Anderson, CEO of Duke Energy, an electric utility: “Personally I feel the time has come to act” and “We will be proactive on the issue of global climate change … Ideally, U.S. public policy should encourage a transition to a lower-carbon-intensive economy through a broad-based approach, such as a carbon tax or other mechanism which addresses all sectors of the economy.”

Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO of General Electric (the country’s largest company), in announcing GE’s “Ecomagination” efforts: “I think [global warming] is something we need to start figuring out and taking proactive steps to make improvements on.”

So given these developments, why is progress in addressing global warming still hard? It’s hard because powerful forces are arrayed to stop it. Those “three yards” of progress in the Senate on climate change were gained recently in the face of hostility from the White House, the House of Representatives, Exxon-Mobil and other industry die-hard opponents, and a public that doesn’t quite understand the need for action now due in large part to the disinformation campaign of special interests.

On June 22 our most august governmental body took an important step forward in their willingness to address global warming.  In a resolution offered by Sen. Bingaman (D-N.M.) the Senate recognized for the first time ever both that (1) global warming caused by human beings is happening, and (2) voluntary measures are inadequate and a mandatory market-based approach is required to address this serious problem.  (Previously, in unanimously approving the 1992 Rio Treaty on climate change the Senate had recognized that climate change is a problem that needed to be addressed, but had until now only affirmed voluntary approaches.)

In the floor debate on addressing global warming, a heretofore uncommitted Sen. DeWine (R-Ohio) was unequivocal: “Climate change is happening. There is simply no question about that. It is time the United States takes the lead in slowing its progress and in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions … We must be bold. We need to be imaginative. We need to be visionary … Realistically, greater investments are not going to be made until we, as a Nation, pull our heads out of the sand and accept the reality that climate change is in fact occurring.”

While the Bingaman resolution is non-binding, it is nevertheless significant because 53 Senators are now on record supporting a mandatory market-based approach to reducing global warming pollution.  The 10 new Senators taking such a stand are: Alexander (R-Tenn.), DeWine (R-Ohio), Domenici (R-N.M.), Graham (R-S.C.),  Specter (R-Pa.), Warner (R-Va.), Byrd (D-W.Va.), Landrieu (D-La.), Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Pryor (D-Ark.).  These senators are to be commended and thanked for supporting this important step in helping to move the country forward on addressing global warming.

A notable senator who didn’t support the resolution was Sen. Brownback (R-Kan.).  Because he is a conservative Republican, Sen. Brownback is to be commended for acknowledging that human-induced global warming is happening (“I believe we are seeing global climate change. I do believe that consequences of man’s actions are here.”), and for voting for another measure to require 10 percent of electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2020.  But unfortunately he did not take the next step in leadership and stand up for a mandatory market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gases.  That’s too bad.  Hopefully, he will be ready to support significant action when the time comes.

While the Bingaman resolution is important as a pledge from the Senate to enact meaningful climate legislation, that pledge will need to be fulfilled.  It’s only three yards and a cloud of dust, but at least we’re moving forward.

Jim Ball is executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and publisher of Creation Care magazine.

To view the “Joint Science Academies’ Statement: Global Response to Climate Change,” go to: http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf
For more information on climate change from a Christian perspective, go to: http://www.creationcare.org/resources/climate/

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