It’s the end of another COP, and the beginning of another new year.  All over the world, 2011 was a year of protest, and yet progress on climate policy seems to be moving backwards instead of forwards in the United States.

Images from 2011: protesters against the Tar Sands Pipeline surround the White House

In December, Durban concluded on a decidedly mixed note, and has been heralded as everything from a thrilling breakthrough to a profound failure.  Durban does represent a breakthrough on the political level, in that governments of developed countries, including the EU and US, and emerging developing countries, including China and India, agreed to eventual legally binding emissions reductions.  This may represent a paradigm shift from the US’ position going into Durban, that developed countries need only sign on to voluntary pledges.  However, the Durban Platform states that countries will agree to a new legal treaty by 2015, which will come into force in 2020.  We already know that this is too late to avoid catastrophic and irreversible effects from climate change-2020 is simply too late.

Looking ahead, the news over the past few days has been a frenzy of coverage of the Republican Presidential primary election, through which the Republican Party will choose its candidate to run against President Obama in the 2012 presidential elections.  And frankly, the slate of candidates is depressing.  Grist published an article describing the current two frontrunners’ positions on climate policy, with the self-explanatory title “Santorum vs. Romney: The climate is screwed either way.”

Tar Sands protest at the White House

Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee, used to at least acknowledge that climate change is a problem, even if his ideas for what to do about it weren’t particularly progressive.  Now, however, Romney claims that “my view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Rick Santorum is even worse.  A climate denier, Santorum has said that “there is no such thing as global warming,” and that climate change is “just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”

Sadly, President Obama may be better in words, but doesn’t have much to offer in practice.  The President who promised that his administration would “work tirelessly to… roll back the specter of a warming planet” in his 2009 inaugural address is now flip-flopping on whether the Keystone XL Pipeline, which NASA scientist James Hansen has called “game over for the planet,” should be built.

Syrian protesters; image by Flickr user Gwenaël Piaser

The need to take action to halt climate change became more apparent than ever in 2011.  And while many Americans feel that climate change doesn’t affect them personally, climate has become more inextricably woven in to American interests, from national security to American jobs and economic growth.  For example, the Climate Progress blog named food insecurity due to drought and extreme weather events the “climate story of the year” for 2011, concluding that “feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”  In an  article in Foreign Affairs earlier this year,  Annia Ciezadlo made the connection between the Arab Spring and food security, saying that “change is sweeping through the Middle East today, but one thing remains the same: the region once known as the Fertile Crescent is now the world’s most dependent on imported grain. Of the top 20 wheat importers for 2010, almost half are Middle Eastern countries. The list reads like a playbook of toppled and teetering regimes: Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia.”

In 2012, climate change will confront us more urgently than ever, through links to increasingly common, seismic global events like the Arab Spring.  It’s time that US climate policy, international and domestic, reflects that reality.  2012 must be the year for climate progress.

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  • Anonymous

    People will take climate seriously just with full stomachs…

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