The following is a guest essay from Bill Becker, Organizer for the National Leadership Summits for a Sustainable America in Golden, Colo.


What would happen if all of the people concerned about the federal government’s lack of leadership on climate change began to sing from the same song sheet? Would the chorus grow so loud that the administration would finally hear it? Would this year’s congressional candidates join in?

These are not unimportant questions. While the Bush administration’s lackluster leadership on global warming has produced a silver lining — the hundreds of grassroots organizations, local governments, and businesses rising to fill the leadership void — it also has produced fragmented effort and the impression among the American people that perhaps global warming isn’t so serious after all. And while local action is essential, some of us have concluded that stabilizing the climate is so large a job with so urgent a timetable that the nation’s response cannot be sufficient without the feds.

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Last June, 40 leaders committed to climate action gathered in Wisconsin and asked the song-sheet questions. Their answer is a document called the "Wingspread Principles on the U.S. Response to Global Warming" — 12 short statements, calm and reasoned, on what the underpinnings should be for serious national climate policy.

"Great nations rise to great challenges," the document begins. "Today, no challenge is more critical than global climate change. It reaches to the core of humanity’s relationship with the Earth. It tests our capacity to make intelligent changes in our economy, policies, and behaviors in the interest of all people and all generations."

The document, named after the conference center where the leaders met, includes these statements:

  • Urgency: Global warming is real and it is happening now. Every year that we delay action to reduce emissions makes the problem more painful and more expensive — and makes the unavoidable consequences more severe. Leaders in government, business, labor, religion and the other elements of civil society must rally the American people to action.
  • Effective Action: The U.S. must set enforceable limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to significantly reduce them within the next 10 years, and should work with other nations to achieve a global reduction in absolute GHG emissions of 60 – 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century. Experience proves that voluntary measures alone cannot solve the problem. Aggressive government action, including mandates based on sound science, is imperative and must be implemented now.
  • Opportunity: Mitigating and adapting to global warming offer the opportunity to create a new energy economy that is cleaner, cheaper, healthier and more secure. We must awaken America’s entrepreneurial spirit to capture this opportunity.
  • Everyone Plays: Measures to stabilize the climate must change the behaviors of business, industry, agriculture, government, workers and consumers. All sectors and the public must be engaged in changing both infrastructure and social norms.
  • Accurate Market Signals: The true and full societal costs of greenhouse-gas emissions, now often externalized, should be reflected in the price of goods and services to help consumers make more informed choices and to drive business innovation. Policymakers should eliminate perverse incentives that distort market signals and exacerbate global warming.
  • International Solutions: Because greenhouse-gas emissions and the effects of climate change are global … the ultimate solutions also must be global. The U.S. must reengage constructively in the international process.

As I write this column, rumors are circulating in Washington that President Bush is about to announce a turnabout in his administration’s climate policy. The Wingspread Principles constitute a good checklist against which to judge how serious, effective, and conscionable the administration’s policies will be. They also are a handy tool for testing your local congressional candidate’s position on global warming.

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Those who have signed the principles so far include:

Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute;
Gus Speth, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale;
Ray Anderson, Chairman and Founder of Interface Inc.;
noted author David Orr of Oberlin College;
Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation;
Matt Petersen, the CEO and President of Global Green;
Michelle Wyman, Executive Director of ICLEI;
Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City;
L. Hunter Lovins, President of Natural Capitalism Solutions;
David Olsen, the former President and CEO of Patagonia, Inc.;
Michael C. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs at the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C.;
the leaders of the American Wind Energy Association and the American Solar Energy Society; and
the board of directors of the Local Government Commission, among others.

The U.S. Green Building Council has endorsed the principles and encouraged its 6,300 members to sign.

You can find the principles and instructions for adding your name to the growing list of co-signers here.