Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Edward Markey, D-Mass., just returned from a visit to Greenland, and promptly held a press conference to ridicule President Bush's "plan" to address global warming. My favorite sound bite from the conference: Markey's quip, "The president's goals are not aspirational, they're procrastinational."
Bush's plan is getting properly hammered from all sides. As Dana Milbank noted in the Washington Post: "The plan the White House outlined yesterday listed no concrete targets or dates, no enforcement mechanism and no penalties for noncompliance. It also wouldn't take effect until four years after Bush leaves office."
Meanwhile, Greenland is melting, or as Markey put it, getting slammed by one of the "environmental bullets" of global warming. Where once the American delegation might have traveled by "dog sled over solid ice," said Pelosi, now they were forced to sail in boats through open water.
In their press conference Pelosi and Markey repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill, to pour money into carbon sequestration technology, and to improve fuel efficiency standards. Great stuff. Pelosi even held out some mild hope that legislation enacting a mandatory cap-and-trade program for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions could be passed this year, but that might be overly optimistic.
The startling thing is that this political scrum is happening at all. According to Markey, Speaker Pelosi "is the highest ranking American official to ever visit Greenland." Let's review: A top U.S. politician went to Greenland to score political points. The lack of dog sled transportation was part of a jab at Republicans! Just a few years ago, environmentalists in the U.S. were bemoaning the apparently irrefutable political reality that climate change -- or any environmental issue -- failed to mobilize voters at the polls. Now, both parties are attempting to position themselves for the 2008 election by standing tall on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and climate change.
How did this happen? Pelosi says "that the American people are way ahead of all of us in Washington, D.C. -- the Congress, the White House and the rest. They know that we need a serious initiative and a serious commitment to making the change that is necessary." I'm not entirely sure that's true. The American people also want cheap gas. More than anything else, the American people don't want to be inconvenienced. But one thing's indisputable, American politicians are now convinced that voters take climate change seriously, enough so that passing a cap-and-trade bill on carbon emissions is seen as strategically advisable.
Maybe there is hope, after all.