It was only a matter of time before global warming would become an organizing principle in the United States. Even for the conservative U.S. Supreme Court. It’s all come in a rush.
This week, in a 5-4 decision, the High Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority and duty to regulate climate change gases produced by automobiles. The suit, brought in June 2003 by Massachusetts and 12 other states, asked the nine justices to tell the EPA that it has jurisdiction over emissions of carbon dioxide from vehicles. The court decision is a critical step in the states’ ultimate goal: compelling the agency to require reductions of vehicular emissions. Michigan’s Democratic Governor, Jennifer M. Granholm, studiously avoided taking sides in the case, which should profoundly affect the state’s automakers, their employees and suppliers, and the communities where they are located. Roughly 27 percent of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions come from vehicles, according to the federal government’s Energy Information Center, and more than 60 percent of those vehicles are made by Michigan-based manufacturers.
The Supreme Court, though, was not alone among elite organizations expressing its concern for the earth’s warming climate. Governors are establishing special commissions to probe the consequences for their states. The United Nations announced today that the Security Council would convene a panel to study how global climate change would affect the poorest nations. Presidential candidates are talking about climate change, though several of the most prominent — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain — also express support for “clean” coal technology.
Also comes word today from Capitol Hill that John Kerry and Newt Gingrich will debate climate change next week in New York. Says The Hill, the weekly Congressional newspaper, quoting Gingrich: “America should focus its energy policy in four areas,” Gingrich writes on his website. “Basic research for a new energy system, incentives for conservation, more renewable resources, and environmentally sound development of fossil fuels. The lengthy process of environmental planning must be made more efficient and cost effective.” Imagine, global climate change as the foundation of political theater. Remarkable.
Climate change is the product of industrialization gone awry. It represents obsolescence in every facet of modern life, including that we designed our spread out cities to use more fossil fuels to reach our over heated and air conditioned outsize homes and office buildings. Solving climate change means updating all of the features of our existence. The technology and practices to reduce emissions of global warming gases will produce communities that rely on energy-efficient transit, promote more compact neighborhoods, build parks and conserve natural resources, construct eco-sensitive office building with heat absorbing green roofs, plant trees instead of rip them up, and make it possible to live with one car instead of a fleet. Though our friends at the Reason Foundation couldn’t fathom it, this will make our lives better.
And here in Michigan, forcing car makers to manufacture cleaner, much more energy efficient vehicles will do more to push the American auto industry into the modern era than anything done over the last two decades in the front offices of the Big 3.