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Former Mayor Talks to Students at SMC:

Amber Katherine’s Environmental Politics class at Santa Monica College heard a talk about environmental issues by former Santa Monica Mayor Mike Feinstein.

Feinstein’s first topic on March 24 was his attendance at the U.N. Bali Climate Change Conference (December 3-14, 2007), at which the world’s nations attempted to hammer out a new version of the Kyoto Agreement, which expires in 2012.

According to Feinstein, “Bali brought out about 15,000 people,” both government representatives and members of nonprofit organizations. The challenge was for representatives of the developing and developed nations to agree on the language being drafted. The United States, however, caused some obstructions.

The language in the preamble to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Report called for a “25-40 percent reduction of emissions by 2020.” The US managed to get this language reduced to a footnote on the last night of the conference. The conference then spilled into an extra day, during which the nations wrangled over adoption of a piece of text defining “appropriate mitigation actions” by the developing countries.

The US delegates wanted one wording, while European nations preferred another wording that defined the distinctions between the developing and developed nations. Representatives spoke out, and Feinstein told the students that some in the crowd even “booed.” The turning point came when a representative from Papua New Guinea told the assembly, “We ask for your leadership and we seek your leadership. If you are not willing to lead, please get out of the way.” In the end, the US joined the consensus on the proposed text.

The US delegates, of course, were following the policies of the Bush Administration, which has not been sympathetic to the drive for reducing carbon emissions. This policy might change with a new administration. But what methods are being employed in this country to reduce emissions? Feinstein explained two concepts currently being proposed.

One is a “carbon tax” which would put a tax on the carbon content of goods and services, an idea that Feinstein thinks would be economically as well as environmentally beneficial.

The other concept, known as “emissions trading” or “cap and trade,” is favored by Governor Schwarzenegger among others. By this, said Feinstein, “There’s a certain amount of pollution, every company has the right to pollute to a certain point, and if they can’t clean up, they can buy another company’s carbon reduction credits.” This method, unfortunately, relies on putting trust in companies and allows for deception.

Furthermore, a carbon tax “can be put in in a graduated manner. A cap and trade market will be subject to market fluctuations.”

And how do the presidential candidates stand on this issue? Feinstein noted that all three major party candidates “are pro-nuke,” and support cap and trade (Hillary Clinton has hinted that she may be willing to look at a carbon tax).

“It’s not clear that we’re going to get the leadership out of our new administration,” said Feinstein. He advocated a gradual effort to change our methods of electing leaders, via changes to the primary system, Instant Runoff Voting, and electing environmentally conscious representatives to state legislatures.

And finally, he said, people have to “do the lifestyle thing.” Each individual can reduce carbon emissions by recycling, using alternative transportation, eating less meat. “It doesn’t mean becoming a vegan but even eating 30 percent less meat helps,” said Feinstein.

Living a green lifestyle, Feinstein concluded, will empower the green cause. “The more you show it can work, the more confidence it will give to Wall Street and the Big Boys – that Green can prosper.”

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