Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Sierra Club vs. Global Warming: Film at 11

by Dan Becker
Director, Global Warming and Energy Program

While polluting industries assail the science confirming climate change and go so far as to propose rewriting environmental law, the Sierra Club presses ahead with public education and positive solutions to global warming. From publicizing its economic impacts in a new study to producing informational video clips for local weather programs, global warming team staff and volunteers are intensifying their public awareness strategy.

In June, the nation's TV weathercasters will receive six news stories produced by the Sierra Club's new meteorologist project on the sources and impacts of global warming and solutions for change. These reports can help fill the coverage gap and Club activists will be key to informing stations of the resource.

And while the president may have come to recognize the high costs of global warming and the need for action, congressional leaders remain far behind. Backed by auto industry lobbyists and PAC dollars, they are working to weaken law that contains the biggest single step to curbing global warming - CAFE standards.

Formally known as corporate average fuel economy, CAFE standards set miles-per- gallon requirements for cars and light trucks. Given that carbon dioxide has proven the largest contributor to global warming, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations argue that a strong CAFE is the quickest, surest and most economical way of cutting CO2 pollution.

Passed by Congress in 1975, CAFE required a doubling of auto fuel efficiency standards but assigned the task of implementation to the president. Now that those standards have been achieved (27.7 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks), the auto industry and their friends in Congress are working to prevent pollution-saving CAFE improvements by working to weaken the law. The twin assault, H.R. 2200 and S. 1506, is being co-sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and would strip the president of the power to set CAFE and require an act of Congress to strengthen it.

A new study by Sierra Club economist Patty Glick points out that in the face of the massive costs posed by global warming, weakening the CAFE law would not only be bad for the environment, but for the economy as well. In "Global Warming: The High Costs of Inaction," Glick stresses that we can't afford a "business as usual" approach to reducing greenhouse emissions based on cost-benefit analysis when impacts like spreading tropical diseases, species extinction and devastation to our coasts from rising sea levels cannot be measured in dollar terms.

In contrast to these costs, strong CAFE standards slash smog and greenhouse pollution, curb our oil addiction and trade deficit and improve our energy security, and money saved at the gas pump could be reinvested to create new jobs. Congress doesn't know a good deal when it sees it.

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