Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

COPENHAGEN—Seven Democratic leaders from the U.S. House of Representatives made an appearance in the Bella Center on Thursday, spreading the message that treaty negotiations have the support of the House along with President Obama.

Pelosi and colleagues at Copenhagen talksPhoto evidence: Congress cares! Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center, in red … duh) brought along six fellow Democrats to make sure everyone knows it’s the Senate’s fault! The dudes, from left to right: Markey, Waxman, Hoyer, Miller and Barton. Where’s Rangel?UNFCCC via FlickrThe delegation doesn’t wield formal power here and didn’t announce any concrete action, except to remind everyone that it’s already taken a big step by passing the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill in June. The subtext was: if the Senate wasn’t holding up everything, the U.S. would already have a climate plan with a cap-and-trade mechanism (and health care reform, new financial regulation, and who knows what else).

“The legislation we passed in the House is sitting in the Senate,” Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman said at a press briefing.

“We consider the climate change issue a national security issue because we want energy independence,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “It’s an economic issue. We come here about one word: It’s about jobs. It’s about jobs that are sustainable for the future. New jobs, new technology, new green jobs for a green revolution.”

Those keywords, in case they weren’t clear, are jobs and national security. Senior Democratic House members Ed Markey, Charles Rangel, Steny Hoyer, Bart Gordon, and George Miller offered similar talking points. (Miller, BTW, is blogging from Copenhagen.)

“We also believe we’re about to unleash the greatest technological revolution that has ever been seen,” said Markey, chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “We will not only be cooperating, but we will be competing as nations to be the leaders in this renewable and efficiency revolution. I believe that once we establish this goal and have the rest of the world begin to compete, it will be not unlike the telecommunications revolution of the 1990s.”

Just as it was impossible to predict eBay, Amazon, Google, and Youtube at the dawn of the internet era, Markey said, “the same change is going to happen in this cleantech sector.”

Sign Up for More News from GristWaxman brought up the well-worn “what about China?” concerns. “Americans are going to ask ‘What are other countries going to do?'” he said. “How are they going to be a part of the effort we are seeking to undertake in the United States?

“Now, we’re not acting based on other countries, even though we’re concerned about how much they do. We’re acting in the interests of the United States, to wean ourselves off the dependence on foreign oil–which is a national security matter–to produce more jobs, as the Speaker so indicated, and to do our part to reduce carbon emissions.”

It was hard to miss the lack of energy the seven lawmakers brought. They thanked each other repeatedly for showing up, laughed at Pelosi’s jokes when no one else did, and showed little of the urgency that’s coursing through the Bella Center today.

So it was somehow disjointing to push out of the press conference room and end up talking in the hallway with Chelsea Howard-Foley. Howard-Foley, a 20-year-old political science major from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is one of the few climate activists allowed into the conference center today. Of 2,000 registered youth delegates, she said, only 16 were admitted today because of space constraints. Organizers may not allow any of them back in tomorrow, so she’ll try to sleep inside somewhere. She’s fasting for 24 hours in support of sufficient climate treaty, and she’s talking to as many delegates as she can to petition for a climate plan that reflects her generation’s interests.

“Our Congress members, some of them are older than my grandmother,” she said. “So them trying to say what’s right for us…”

She didn’t finish the thought. She said she’s missing three weeks of classes to be here with the Sierra Student Coalition. Other students are skipping finals and using their own savings to be here.

It’s probably lack of sleep, but I’m finding myself more than a little moved knowing that students are skipping finals, fasting, hiding overnight in the conference center, all to demand peacefully but firmly for a scientifically sane climate plan. What would happen if members of Congress went to those lengths to work for a real deal? What would happen if they fasted and stayed here overnight and used every resource they had?

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