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Climate Reform’s Good, Bad, and Ugly

by Sarah Laskow

The next United Nations climate change conference is almost a year away, and health care is still dominating the legislative agenda in Washington. That means climate reform opponents, from the coal industry to the global warming skeptics, have plenty of time to work, out of the spotlight, to derail progress. Here's a glimpse of the enemies of reform-and the companies and individuals that are still fighting for change in 2010.

Take the case of Cape Wind, an offshore wind farm planned for Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound, as an example. The project faced yet another roadblock this week, when the National Park Service said the site could be listed as a historical place, prized by Nantucket's Native American tribes. But as Kate Sheppard writes in Mother Jones, the park service's decision counts as a victory for a less sympathetic opponent as well. William Koch is the founder and president of the Oxbow Group, a privately-held group of companies, and he has laid out more than a million dollars to fight Cape Wind.

"Koch ... has made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products," Sheppard explains. "He's the son of Fred Koch, founder of oil and gas giant Koch Industries, and brother of David and Charles Koch-who have supported conservative groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy (which later merged with another group to form FreedomWorks) and Americans for Prosperity, which has campaigned against both climate legislation and health care reform."

Mother Jones is also on the case of the Atlas Foundation, a think tank that promotes climate change skepticism (and also receives funding from Koch). Josh Harkinson examines this group and other foundations that are supporting "a loose network of some 500 similar organizations in dozens of countries" and that are in turn financed by "carbon-spewing American industries." The Atlas Economic Research Foundation alone has supported more than 30 other foreign think tanks that buy into climate change skepticism, Harkinson reports.

"The foreign groups' finances are opaque, yet an Atlas Foundation spokesman acknowledges that some of them wouldn't exist without dollars being pumped in," Harkinson writes. "In the coming months, these groups will lead the fight in their own countries to derail the shaky deal made in Copenhagen-which will likely prompt American skeptics to cite widespread international opposition to taking action on climate change."

Of course, the skeptics do have opponents, including the solar and wind power industries that stand to gain from climate change legislation. One group that can be added to that list: Farmers. Lynda Washington of the Iowa Independent reports that "most, but not all, [agricultural] producers will benefit from the package passed earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives," according to a new study by Kansas State University (KSU) researchers.

The American Farmland Trust, which funded the KSU study, will have plenty of strange bedfellows as it lobbies Congress on climate change legislation. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports that the groups joining the battle on Capitol Hill include "venture capitalists, the natural gas lobby, America's most iconic soup maker Campbell Soup," according to a new analysis of federal records.

"The sheer range of interests registered to lobby on climate change is expected to create further delays in the Senate's effort to complete a successful bill to curb fossil fuel emissions," Goodman explains.

Over the next year, the fight for strong climate policy won't just take place in Washington. On a state and local level, governments, independent organizations and individuals will work towards turning back global warming. As Mark Herstgaard points out in The Nation: "Hundreds of local and regional governments have also implemented ambitious green energy programs ahead of federal policy. A pioneer of this effort, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced in Copenhagen the formation of the R-20 Group-twenty regions around the world that will 'set high standards for cutting carbon and creating green economies, then invite others to join them,' in the words of Terry Tamminen, the California governor's former environment adviser."

And in Yes! Magazine, Tara Lohan writes that some cities "have long been ahead of Congress and the White House on climate commitments ... committing to Kyoto goals in 2005 through the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement."

"But the community climate movement goes beyond local government initiatives," Lohan explains. "It's a cultural shift involving people at all levels of the community, from tiny rural towns in red states to major metropolitan areas."

In one California town, that shift promoted Catherine Sutton to start Transition Albany, a project that encourages the town's residents to consider new ways to face climate change and dwindling oil supplies, reports Pamela O'Malley Chang at Yes! Magazine.

And in Iowa, "Lonnie Gamble, who lives in a solar and wind powered straw bale home in this Jefferson County community, hasn't paid a gas or electric bill in two decades," writes Beth Dalbey for the Iowa Independent. Gamble is just one resident of Fairfield, IA, who is helping to "institutionalize sustainable living", while ""blazing a trail" for other small Iowa cities," Dalbey reports.

One small thing anyone can do to move towards climate change reform: This winter, remind everyone, as Cord Jefferson does at Campus Progress, that, yes, it's cold, but that doesn't mean global warming isn't real.

"As the World Meteorological Organization has said for years," Jefferson reminds us, "global warming and cool temperatures go together like cocoa and marshmallows."

 

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