Rise to global warming challenge: 02/06/07

By U.S. Sen. Carl Levin
Detroit Free Press

There is a consensus among scientists — and a growing consensus among political leaders — that global warming is occurring, that we are causing it, and that we need to act now for the sake of future generations. It is critical that we take steps equal to the environmental challenge at hand and that do not needlessly hurt the economy.

Climate change is a global problem, and it requires a global solution. We need an effective and enforceable international agreement that binds all nations to reduce greenhouse gasses. Although the United Sates is the largest emitter of such gases, China and India are polluting more and more each year. China will overtake us as the top emitter in seven years. Without actions to limit international greenhouse gas emissions, nothing we do will matter.

That fact is not an excuse for complacency; it is a call to leadership. Instead of leaving the international negotiating table, as the Bush administration has done, the United States needs to take a leading role.

To put some teeth into it, a new climate change agreement should allow any country to refuse to accept the products of another country that is failing to meet agreed-upon carbon reduction responsibilities. Tackling greenhouse gas production would become the price for access to international markets. We should also insist that U.S.-funded international development agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and USAID not support countries that violate international agreements on global warming.

Here at home, we should reduce carbon output across all sectors of our economy. Leap-ahead technologies can revolutionize the auto industry. With strong government and private investments in research and development, public-private partnerships, and incentives for manufacturers, we can make great technological leaps in hybrid-electrics, including plug-in hybrids; in hydrogen fuel cells; in advanced diesels; and in the next generation of ethanol and other biofuels. By working with our automakers to achieve these breakthroughs, we will help create jobs and spur our economy as well.

Unfortunately, many people in Washington have a misguided focus on increasing arbitrary fuel economy standards, known as CAFE. Expanding CAFE is a plan for plenty of economic pain but almost no environmental gain. By 2012, the world is projected to produce nearly 32 billion metric tons per year of carbon dioxide. The U.S. contribution to that will be about 6 1/2 billion metric tons. If CAFE standards were increased by 4% per year, as some are proposing, the U.S. contribution would be reduced by only about 5 million metric tons. That’s a measly one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. contribution.

Because of the way CAFE is structured, it is highly discriminatory against U.S. companies and workers. It pushes consumers from U.S. vehicles to foreign-made vehicles that have the same fuel efficiency. With our automakers already facing trade barriers and an uneven international playing field, imposing on them the discriminatory features of the CAFE structure costs America jobs without improving the environment.

If we aggressively invest in leap-ahead technologies, we can dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles not only here, but around the world. And if we combine those investments with an American initiative for a broadly based international agreement on climate change, we will finally provide the leadership a crisis of this proportion demands.

CARL LEVIN is Michigan’s senior U.S. senator. He maintains seven offices in Michigan, including one in Detroit at 313-226-6020. E-mail contact information is available at the Web site senate.levin.gov.

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