Below is a post I recently wrote for the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog on the American Power Act, legislation introduced by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman to confront the challenges of climate change.

You can read my response and responses from other experts at the National Journal blog. Below is an excerpt of my thoughts.

We are poised on what could be a historic moment for America.

Never before has the U.S. Congress been so close to passing legislation that could change the way our country uses and produces energy, while also taking steps to protect our lands, waters and communities from the growing threats of climate change.

The surprising array of initial supporters of that legislation — called The American Power Act – range from some of the country’s largest energy producers to leading military experts to conservation organizations. That range shows a growing recognition of the need for action.

The continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has the potential to be another incentive for members of Congress to move our country away from our dependence on oil and to kick start a new clean energy industry that will build American jobs and economic opportunities.

By lowering greenhouse gas pollution 17 percent in the short-term, and by 80 percent over the next 40 years, the bill also has the potential to position the United States as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Whether one agrees with every bit of science that points to the threats of man-made carbon emissions, The Nature Conservancy’s own scientists working on the ground around the world are seeing firsthand the impacts of a changing climate on the Earth’s waters, lands, species and human communities.

As a father and a grandfather, it seems to me irresponsible to ignore these signs of an uncertain future for the next generations of Americans.

By developing a bill that has been able to draw diverse support, Sens. John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman (and, yes, Lindsey Graham) may finally have achieved enough common ground — and common sense — to take the next steps needed to build a clean energy industry, grow American jobs and protect our country’s natural resources.

Certainly the bill is not perfect. The Conservancy plans to work closely with members of Congress and others to bring more focus to several issues — including the need to protect communities around the world from climate impacts and the importance of investing in forest conservation as a strategy for reducing carbon emissions:

  • In an age of globalization, floods, droughts and other climate-related disasters across the globe will directly affect Americans here at home. Helping people and the natural systems upon which they depend cope with climate impacts is less dangerous and less expensive than dealing with climate-caused armed conflicts and with governments destabilized by food and water shortages.
  • Destruction of the world’s forests produces about 15 percent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions pumped into the atmosphere each year – more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on Earth. We cannot win the fight against climate change without stopping deforestation. Allowing U.S. businesses to invest under carefully controlled conditions in international forest protection can begin mitigation of climate change at a very reasonable cost while we ramp up the use of low carbon energy technologies. And the savings companies will achieve will translate into savings for the American consumer.

I have no illusions that resolving these and other issues to achieve passage of the American Power Act will be easy. We have already seen how transforming the country’s energy system — while also addressing the politically charged issue of climate change — can get people stirred up.

However, the broad spectrum of businesses, military leaders, faith-based groups, conservationists and others who are supporting this bill shows that there is, at last, the distinct possibility for action.

We at The Nature Conservancy are grateful for this opportunity to work together with all sorts of other interests to make this work.

(Image: Duke Energy’s 14-megawatt Blue Wing Solar Project in San Antonio, Texas. Image Credit: Duke Energy/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Nothing in present bills and in the hoopla of environmental groups include TNC faces the basic facts needed to be recognized to get control of the climate and energy crises. We already have in the biosphere overloads of GHGs and ENERGY. That means cutting emissions and getting better energy efficiency just slow the worsening of the crises, but those actions do not reverse them.
    To reverse the crises, we have to find a way to go negative carbon emissions and energy emissions. This can be done by making our massive ever-growing messes of organic wastes and sewage solids into a resource by using the process of pyrolysis on them. These messes are a biofuels crop already in hand needing no costly planting and harvesting, and no usurping of land and water from providing the basic needs of humans. Pyrolysis, the process of making charcoal, involves heating the wastes in a closed chamber without oxygen so that charcoal gets formed from about 50% of the biocarbon present with the other 50% distilled out as a gaseous mix that is set up to go through an exit tube that connects to a turbocharger like some cars have. The mix can be collected and refined as it contains many simply organic chemicals that can serve as a renewable fuel or source of raw materials to make drugs. Charcoal from organic wastes may be used as a soil amendment and may provide a needed element, phosphorus, that is gotten now from certain mineral sources that are rapidly reaching an endpoint.
    Perhaps even more important than getting some control of the energy and GHG emissions with using pyrolysis is the destroying of germs, toxics and drugs in the messes as escapes of those hazards are getting more serious every day. EPA late last year set limits on several drugs showing up in drinking water. From where did those drugs get into drinking water and what good does setting limits have to stop further occurrences possibly of other drugs etc. or at levels exceeding the limits??? One day soon I fear that we may have a drinking water contamination mess from those wastes that will cripple a major city’s water supply system.
    I urge TNC members to call for TNC to get action on controlling theses waste messes and suggest that they send Obama an e-mail message to the Whitehouse website using the updated adage WASTE NOT, WANT NOT, WARM NOT, WATER-POLLUTE NOT. And in the message to him and elected officials, you could call for establishing a federal waste strategy agency to make these messes into a resource as outlined here. The UK already has 2 such agencies working to stop those wastes from getting out of hand, but here many local agencies just look to see where they can get the wastes dumped out of sight. Unfortunately such dumping will be laying waste to our children’s futures. Dr. J. Singmaster

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