On Sept. 1, the European Union stopped manufacturing and importing incandescent light bulbs. Europeans will now turn to the much more efficient compact fluorescent, halogen and LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. Incandescents, critics argue, waste up to 95 percent of energy as heat, using only 5 percent for light. The EU hopes to save the equivalent of 11 million households’ energy usage through the year 2020, worth $7.3 billion a year to the European economy.
The ban precedes the December 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, held by the United Nations to update the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Greenhouse-gas emissions now occur faster than ever. Copenhagen will be critical to the success or failure of establishing a practical, binding global plan of action before human-caused climate change reaches the point of no return, creating a cascade of catastrophes.
Eventually, global warming will become irreversible if action is not taken. Greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere are measured in “parts per million.” Environmentalist Bill McKibben says that a sustainable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. He has named his organization 350.org to reinforce the point. We are currently at 387 ppm and climbing. McKibben and 350.org are calling for a global day of action, on Oct. 24, to pressure governments before the Copenhagen summit.
A new generation of environmental activists is already in motion. This week, two young people were arrested in West Virginia for halting a Massey Energy Co. mountaintop coal-mining operation with a weeklong “tree sit,” and six people in London were arrested at the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters for protesting the bank’s investment in fossil fuels. They glued themselves together and to the floor of the bank to hamper their removal, leading Reuters to headline its story “Protesters stick together in UK bank demonstration.”
The road to Copenhagen also is paved with gold: money being spent by the wealthy oil, gas and coal industries to derail or weaken any outcome. The American Petroleum Institute has launched an “AstroTurf” (not to be confused with grass-roots) campaign in the U.S., paying for and organizing rallies, largely attended by oil-, gas- and coal-company employees, under the banner of “Energy Citizens.” Employees are bused in to the staged rallies with signs proclaiming “I’ll pass on $4 gas” and “Congress, don’t take away my job!” Similarities to the organized mobs at health care reform town-hall-style meetings are not merely coincidental; former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s group FreedomWorks, funded by, among others, oil and pharmaceutical corporations, is listed as a consultant to each industry campaign.
The American Petroleum Institute is attempting to undermine the U.S. Senate’s consideration of climate-change legislation, and it just might succeed. The House bill, referred to as the American Clean Energy and Security Act or the Waxman-Markey climate bill, is up for consideration by the Senate in September. Fast action would be required to grant President Barack Obama the room to negotiate at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in late September, a key step in the lead-up to Copenhagen. But Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry said this week that the bill will be delayed, citing the health care debate and the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. How ironic. Every week that the health care and energy bills are delayed is a victory for the opponents of change, which is especially sad because these were two of the most important issues to Kennedy.
Genuine citizen action, in the U.S. and beyond, will be critical to counter industry influence over the Copenhagen talks. There is a light at the end of the climate tunnel – it just isn’t incandescent.