Since his re-election, President Bush has spent much of his time, and political capital, on the security of seniors. Despite the fact that Social Security can pay full benefits at least until 2042, he has warned that "The cost of doing nothing – the cost of saying the current system is okay – far exceeds the cost of trying to make sure we save the system for our children." While he creates a false crisis in Social Security, he ignores the real crisis of climate change.
The Bush administration would do more for the security of seniors in the future if it recognized that the president's statement is more applicable to climate security than Social Security. Because the cost of doing nothing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions far exceeds the cost our children will bear from the impacts of global warming. If the Bush administration is looking for a policy that will increase the security of seniors in 2018, 2042 or beyond, it should adopt policies that help change the energy system – not the Social Security system – for America and the rest of the world.
Climate change from human activities may already be contributing to extreme weather events, like the European heat wave in the summer of 2003, but scientists predict such events will become more frequent and more severe as global average temperature rises. A UK climate research group has estimated that climate change has already doubled the risk of such heat waves. Seniors – and the very young – are most at risk of death during heat waves. Taking steps to increase climate security increases senior security. The money the Bush administration is willing to spend on the transition to private accounts for Social Security – trillions according to Vice-President Cheney – would be better spent on a transition to no- or low-carbon, clean energy sources. The actions we take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years are going to have important repercussions over the next century, when today's children are seniors.
Today, with the Kyoto Protocol coming into force, the rest of the developed world is tackling climate change while the United States sits on the side lines, benched by the Bush administration. Ironically, the Kyoto Protocol creates exactly what conservatives are supposed to admire most – a market. Even before Kyoto comes into effect, the global carbon market is thriving with an equivalent of over 250 million tons of carbon dioxide credits moving through the various existing carbon markets. This market is only going to grow with the start of Kyoto, and analysts have forecast that the size of the market could be as much as $1 trillion by 2010.
While it is a shame to be missing out on the carbon market, the greater concern is the loss of competitive advantage to other countries in clean energy technology. Under Kyoto, countries that have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions can gain credit for investments in clean energy in the developing world through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). So starting today Japan, Britain, Germany and the rest of the developed countries bound by Kyoto will have added incentive to develop partnerships in China, India and other energy-hungry developing countries. This will not only cement business relationships but also spur technological innovations and create jobs.
Dependable, well-paying jobs are the best way to help Americans prepare for retirement, and investing in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies is one of the best ways to create them.
Other members of the Republican Party understand this and are leading the way in the Senate and the states to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), along with Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), is the sponsor of a bill to establish a nationwide carbon dioxide cap and trade program. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) has recently introduced three bills designed to enhance deployment of clean energy technology in the Unites States and abroad, while Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has helped chart the way forward on international climate change policy as the co-chair of the International Climate Change Taskforce, co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress. Their fellow Republicans, Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki, are establishing state programs to decrease emissions and are working with their neighboring governors to achieve even greater reductions. President Bush would not be alone – or inexperienced – if he were to support an increase in clean energy sources. After all, as governor of Texas he signed into law one of the first state renewable energy portfolios.
Everyone wants a secure retirement. President Bush can look forward to spending his retirement years in his passive-solar, geothermal-cooled Crawford ranch house that has been called a "paragon of environmental planning." To help today's children achieve a safe retirement, the Bush administration should be adopting energy policies that will create new clean energy jobs for them and help ensure climate security for their Social Security years.
Ana Unruh Cohen is the associate director for environmental policy at the Center for American Progress.