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Caring People Keep On Keeping On

December 12, 2011 - Abigail Borah took her brave pills last Thursday, and then proceeded to do what so many of us have wished we had the guts to do: she spoke Truth to Power.  While attending the Conference of the Parties (17), also known as the "climate talks," in Durban, South Africa, the junior at Middlebury College interrupted Todd Stern, chief negotiator for the United States.  Her voice high-pitched with fright, she said what has needed saying for too long:

"I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot.  The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long.  I am scared for my future.  2020 is too late to wait.  We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious, and legally-binding treaty.  You must take responsibility to act now, or you will threaten the lives of youth and the world's most vulnerable.  You must set aside partisan politics and let science dictate decisions.  You must pledge ambitious targets to lower emissions by stillborn negotiations [sic].  We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric.  Keep your promises.  Keep our hope alive.  2020 is too late to wait."

Abigail, you are a courageous, intelligent lover of environmental justice for all.  Thank you so much for making us all so proud.

The obstructionist Congress to which Abigail refers will never ratify a climate treaty.  Let's talk about what President Obama is doing in the meantime to compensate for their stupid intransigence.  First, on December 2, President Obama joined former President Clinton to announce a $4 billion, joint private and public sector effort to improve the energy efficiency of 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and industrial property - an extension of the Better Buildings Initiative.  This is made possible by the coming together of corporate CEO's, universities, mayors, labor leaders, and environmental organizations.  Americans actually DO remember how to work together, after all!

Next, building on President Obama's initial CAFE regulations, the EPA and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation unveiled a joint preposal to set stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas pollution standards for vehicles made during the years 2017-2025.  When combined with other steps President Obama has mandated in order to increase energy efficiency, this proposal will save Americans over $1.7 trillion at the pump (over $8,000 per vehicle by 2025).  Taken together, these actions will also slash 6 billion metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the programs.

The American military has long recognized the need to take steps which inhibit climate change.  U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuel, the single largest purchase of biofuels in government history.  Will this order be for biofuel made from camelina, an inedible crop which can be grown on marginal land?  More about this development in next week's blog!

Finally, the EPA announced proposed changes that achieve extensive public health protections through significant reductions in toxic air pollutants.  These standards will avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, prevent 5,100 heart attacks, and avert 52,000 asthma attacks per year in 2015.  As a result, EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to cut these pollutants, the public will see $12 to $30 in health benefits.  At a time when health care costs are increasingly exorbitant, this is meaningful change.

Imagine what we could do if we all worked together!

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