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Meet Kate Smolski, U.S. Climate Action Network

June 6, 2009


While in Bonn, Taylor and I have been brainstorming how to best make use of our time. What interesting things can we do here that we couldn’t do in the U.S? We’d encourage your suggestions, but one of our best ideas is to start interviewing members of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and delegates at the UN conference.

Take 1. Our first interview was with Kate Smolski of the U.S. Climate Action Network. The USCAN is the largest network in the U.S. of organizations working on climate change. It is an affiliate of the Climate Action Network, whose 2:00 meetings we attended most of the week. (Admittedly, I slept through a good half hour of each meeting, but for anyone who knows me, I do this in any venue and it is not a slight against them. Taylor stayed awake the entire time and learned new information.)

Kate is the domestic policy director for USCAN. Taylor and I attended a meeting that she co-led, where we learned what was in the Waxman-Markey bill and how it worked. For the policy wonks among us, I have included the 6 page analysis from the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) April 22nd report that was handed out at the meeting. Although the bill has changed since April 22nd, it is still a good analysis of the general structure.

I went up to Kate after the meeting and asked if she would answer a few questions. She agreed and we found a seat in the front of the room. Taylor tried to transcribe the conversation as best as he could, but The Copenhagen Questions news crew still needs some practice. The following responses are paraphrased.


Q: We often hear people calling for the United States to lead on a climate change treaty at Copenhagen. But then we also hear from many that if the United States takes action first, then China and India won’t and the U.S. economy will be hurt. If we lead, will other countries really follow?

A: I think that U.S. leadership is critical for developing nations to come to the table and take additional domestic actions. Because of our historical emissions, we have a responsibility to lead. And in order for China and India–who are already taking action–to go further, they need for us to move, to give them the signal we’re committed.

But it’s also an issue of benefiting the economy. There are other nations like the EU where they are already benefiting from clean energy. The US does not want to lag behind. It’s important that we get in the game.

Q: What features of Waxman-Markey are the strongest?

A: Well, I really think the economy-wide reduction of 20% reductions below 2005 levels by 2020. I say 20% because although the cap only goes to 17%, there is an additional 3% reductions from complementary policies like updating building codes. [And, as seen in the key findings of the WRI analysis, it could achieve 38% below 2005 levels by 2020 when taking into consideration maximum offsets and compliance.]

Picture 3

Environmental groups fought very hard  for clean technology funding to be kept in. The Renewable Energy Standard level  isn’t that great anymore, but we are excited by efficiency pieces in the legislation, like raising compliance standards.

And I think something that we shouldn’t take for granted is that the United States is actually going to put a cap on carbon. That’s so important for the market signal that it sends.

Q: What is the hardest part about taking part in a major push for climate change legislation?

A: The political compromises. Definitely. We know what the science says, we know we’re not there. But compromise have to happen to get it through Congress, and we have to get something to start off with.

Q: Last question. What message do you have to the youth in America, particularly in the Midwest like members of the Indiana Campus Sustainability Alliance?

A: Well first of all, to the climate youth, great job. We wouldn’t be where we are without you. And keep working hard. My message is to encourage all of you to get outside of your comfort zone. Build broader coalitions with different constituencies. In Indiana, get outside of your college towns and build coalitions in other parts the state. Businesses, soccer moms, cities, everyone.

There you have it! To see an analysis of the next 8 committees Waxman-Markey has to travel through, check out this article by Grist’s Kate Sheppherd.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Dilius Maximus permalink
    June 6, 2009 7:51 pm

    The Waxman-Markey discussion draft is phenomenal! I would love to see some like this go through, but naturally she is right. Without the correct political compromises, this is going to be a rough ride. Although I think this could easily work out! The graph you have posted might be a little more curved at first, but the goal could be the same.

    As for things I think you should do while in Bonn….well….I think you know my suggestion already. Otherwise I would suggest sightseeing in spare time and also spending time talking to locals and learning the language. Such a great opportunity! You guys are busy though. Do what you can when you have spare time!

    Awesome Material!

    -Donald ‘Dil’ Smith

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