Tonight, on a group phone call organized by climate advocacy group Power Shift, John Kerry addressed hundreds of grassroots organizers about the urgency of the situation regarding the Senate climate bill, aka "Kerry-Boxer."

This morning the first congressional hearing was held for Kerry-Boxer, whose official title is the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act." It was well-attended by senior Obama officials including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Kerry was optimistic that a bill would leave the committee in time for Copenhagen, but he was quick to point out the challenging road ahead as it winds its way through the Senate in search of the requisite 60 votes.

The bill applies only to 2 percent of the companies in the U.S. (about 7,500 companies). It does not apply to farms, small businesses or the transportation sector. But that 2 percent of corporate America represents a full 75 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (and a large chunk of U.S. GDP). And while many Fortune 500 companies like Dow, DuPont, Cisco and American Power are on board, there is a whole lot of money being spent by private interests lobbying politicians to reject or split apart the bill.

A great deal of effort is required just to keep the Democrats together against a mostly unified front of Republican opponents. (I never thought I would say it, but thank God for Lindsey Graham.) Kerry in particular called out Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico and Byron Dorgon from North Dakota who are now in favor of splitting the bill into two parts -- an energy bill and (at some point in the distant future) a separate cap-and-trade bill, a move that would almost certainly unhinge any real U.S. participation at Copenhagen.

Kerry urged everyone to let their senators know how they feel about the importance of a unified climate bill (a handy way to do so is on the NRDC website which will send an e-mail directly to your senator with a pre-written message).

Kerry reinforced, “The stakes are high.” During the Bush tenure, greenhouse gas emissions went up 400 percent over mid-'90s levels. This has had huge and irreversible consequences for the entire planet which has now undergone a 0.8 degree temperature rise.

Factoring in the half-life of carbon dioxide, we will (for sure) be seeing a global temperature rise of 1.6 degrees. A 2-degree rise is widely held to be the maximum the Earth’s atmosphere can tolerate without dire global consequences, for example, collapsing agricultural yields (World Bank, 2008):

“That gives us 0.4 degree cushion,” Kerry stated, and in order to take advantage of this narrow window of opportunity we have to push for a mandatory carbon reduction policy immediately. 

The health care debate has proved to be a convenient smoke screen for anti-climate lobbyists to operate unfettered, and now grassroots organizers have to fill in the gap. "We have to hold our politicians accountable."

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