United Nations Barcelona Climate Change Talks: Day 2

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference will fail to create a legally binding commitment that reduces carbon emissions, according to an assessment made by an American climate organization.

BARCELONA — The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference will fail to create a legally binding commitment that reduces carbon emissions, according to an assessment made by an American climate organization attending day two of the United Nations' Barcelona Climate Change Talks.

The dour briefing, given in a beige conference room by members of the Pew Center on Climate Change, seemed to frustrate the many listeners who vocally accused the United States of stonewalling the climate negotiations.

Giving what amounted to an undergraduate civics lecture on American government, the Pew Center explained to its international audience that while American Presidents enjoy substantial domestic and military powers, their authority is vastly more contained when it comes to brokering international agreements.

In other words, blame Congress.

So why does America suffer internal disunity when global cooperation on climate change seems within reach? With the Copenhagen conference just four weeks away, only rapid congressional action could deliver what the world wants from the United States: a binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

Given the partisan atmosphere in the House and Senate, however, any immediate passage of substantial climate change legislation would likely come with short-term political costs. And those short-term costs could make more important, long-term emissions goals more difficult to achieve.

(Many attendees of the Climate Change Talks disapprove of how American political concerns appear to trump global ones.

Manik Roy, speaking for the Pew Center, gave five necessary conditions for passing climate change legislation in America.

  • Passage of healthcare reform
  • Steady economic growth
  • A bipartisan spirit
  • Personal leadership from Obama
  • Positive steps by other nations in Copenhagen
  • By all accounts, the Kerry-Graham bill will not reach the Senate floor until well after the Copenhagen ConferenceIt seems the Senators' attempt to lay out their arguments in favor of climate change legislation, coming in the form of an October editorial in The New York Times, was too late to be of real consequence.

    In the meantime, the US is limited to reducing its carbon emissions through the federal Clean Air Act, a set of laws never intended to combat climate change but retrofitted to the emerging issue of greenhouse gases by the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that they be classified as air pollutants. 

    Our system of checks, balances, and distributed powers—designed to guard against authoritarian influence—can make political progress frustratingly slow. America has rarely bent quickly under international pressure, and climate change is proving no exception.

    As the Copenhagen conference fast approaches, the world is again confronted with that fact.


    Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

    The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

    Big Think Edge
    • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
    • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
    • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
    Keep reading Show less

    Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

    Three scientists publish paper proving that not Venus but Mercury is the closest planet to Earth

    Strange Maps
    • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbour must be planet two of four, right?
    • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
    • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbour is... Mercury!
    Keep reading Show less

    Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

    The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

    An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
    Surprising Science
    • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
    • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
    • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
    Keep reading Show less

    10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

    The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

    American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
    • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
    • These ten novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
    • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard and hiding out in inner city Newark.
    Keep reading Show less