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When I last looked, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was still very carefully trying to say nothing at all about the EPA’s proposed new emission standards which are designed to reduce carbon emissions in the United States 30% by 2030. Which is actually pretty much in line with her past behavior; McCaskill has long been a disappointment to her constituents when it comes to showing leadership on the issue of climate change. She has been very careful to avoid even the appearance of pulling out the rug from under dirty coal, the producers and consumers of which are a powerful force in Missouri which currently gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels.

McCaskill’s past arguments for rejecting stronger regulation of carbon emissions from coal-fired energy plants have revolved around: (1) the supposed potential for economic hardship for “Missouri’s families,” and, (2) the assertion that the costs would be born disproportionately by the U.S. She has noted that “it’s not going to do us any good to clean up our act as it relates to the atmosphere. It’s the same atmosphere that China shares and Japan shares and India shares. Some very big industrial countries.”

The first argument, which McCaskill shares with most Republican apologists for fossil fuels, should, by now, occasion the great hilarity that is due arguments that pit relatively minor, short-term concerns against long-term, global survival. After all, while it’s questionable that efforts to reduce carbon emissions will seriously harm those Missouri families she is so fond of citing, doing nothing about climate change is going to really hurt Missourians over the next thirty years, particularly those dependent on agriculture. A recent report stipulates that “higher temperatures will reduce Midwest crop yields by 19 percent by midcentury and by 63 percent by the year 2100.” McCaskill’s position also ignores the hidden costs of fossil fuel dependence, such as the personal and economic aspects of its effect on public health.  

A new report, the 2014 Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI), demonstrates the emptiness of McCaskill’s international rationale for delaying action on carbon emisions. According to the LCEI:

… . China could be viewed as the poster child for developing countries, with a 2013 national decarbonisation rate of 4%. China improved its energy intensity by 3% in 2013, the third highest amongst the G20, and has a flourishing renewable energy sector 2. China also launched seven regional emissions trading schemes over the last year, although these are unlikely to have a dramatic impact on emissions in the short term. …

And:

While coal use in China rose by 3.7% in 2013, it is at a much slower rate than in previous years. China has made public efforts to curb coal use to manage its air pollution problems, for example a limit on coal use to 65% of its energy mix, and more recently a proposed ban on coal-fired power in Beijing by 2020. …  

China lowered its carbon emissions by 3.5%, a full percentage point more than the US where:

A revival of coal […], driven by a combination of falling coal prices and rising gas prices, has also been a major factor in the low US position in the G20 decarbonisation league table. Coal in the US has regained some market share from natural gas in the generation mix  ince its low in April 2012, causing an increase in emissions, and dispelling the myth that a shale gas revolution will necessarily result in emissions reductions. …

Don’t these numbers make it clear that we can no longer allow our politicans to point to the other guy in order to excuse inaction on carbon emissions? Certainly we should not allow Senator McCaskill to do so when the time comes when she will have to make her position on the new EPA regulations known. While the reduction in carbon emissions that these regulations would achieve is still not enough to stop potentially catastrophic global warming, they would still move us significantly forward in that direction:

If the rule goes forward as it is currently conceived, this proposal, combined with the reductions to date and those that will be driven by prior executive actions addressing the transportation sector, would, in approximate terms, put the US on a path to achieve Obama’s 17% by 2020 pledge. However, putting the proposed rule in context of the global de-carbonization challenge, it will achieve a small portion of the reductions required to stay within 2°C carbon budget. The EPA estimates it will result in reductions from the business as usual case of 545 MM tonnes of CO2 in 2030*. This plan would contribute a cumulative 5.9% reduction in US carbon intensity or an average annual additional intensity reduction of 0.39%

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Isn’t it time for the US to start to play the leadership role when it comes to climate change that those advocates of “American exceptionalism” expect us to play when the question involves military action? Let’s ask Senator McCaskill why China should have to do all the heavy lifting – particularly since it’s clear that no nation can do it alone. And while we’re at it, let’s ask the Senator why she can’t manage to play more of a leadership role when it comes to helping our state make the transition from dirty energy sources – surely she can manage to stop concentrating on keeping her balance on the center line that runs down that rightward veering highway she’s been traveling in order to help determine the outcome of what will probably be the defining issue of our time.

Update:  Via Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore, Paul Krugman writes today on false economic arguments of the fossil fuel advocates:

I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.

Their own reasons …. hmmm. Locally, could that be Peabody Coal? Along with all the voting Missourians who get all their information from Fox News? How do you balance them beans against climate apocalypse?