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Today’s Washington Post reports Senate passage of the food safety bill. It passed 73 to 25, despite the putative rise of anti-regulatory sentiment, because a raft of stories about food poisoning made American families anxious about food safety. On climate safety, however, Congress remains paralyzed despite clear evidence that extreme weather is hitting American families harder every year . And the impact is even more devastating for poor families in developing countries (see here, here and here). As a thought exercise, here’s a fictionalized adaptation of a portion of the Post article that simply substitutes climate for food. Painful but plausible, eh?

What happened today for food safety will happen tomorrow for climate safety, if carbon emissions remain unchecked. American (and global) climate casualties will continue mounting inexorably, and public outrage will ultimately force a draconian response. Wouldn’t it be far better to act now, with sensible carbon pricing, rather than waiting until the roof falls in and survival repairs become ruinously expensive?

You can see the latest version of the Washington Post article here. Mouse over the green links in the fictionalized adaptation below to see the original article text.


In what would be the biggest overhaul of the nation's climate safety laws in seven decades, the Senate on Tuesday approved a raft of regulations that would require carbon emitters to use scientific techniques to reduce emissions - a shift aimed at stopping the waves of climate-related catastrophes that have shaken consumer confidence.

The vote of 73 to 25 cleared the way for the legislation to be signed into law in the coming weeks, delivering a revamped safety system that would confer vast new authority on the Environmental Protection Agency, accelerate the government's response to climate-related disasters, and set the first carbon-content standards for imported products. The changes come after a spate of weather disasters injured or displaced thousands nationwide and caused at least a dozen deaths.

"For too long, we've allowed unchecked carbon emissions to be a gamble for American families," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a lead sponsor of the bill. The measure "will give our citizens some long-overdue peace of mind in their homes and communities."

The legislation drew support across party lines, making it one of the few recent measures to bridge differences in an otherwise sharply divided body.

Leaders in the House, which approved a more stringent version more than a year ago, have indicated that they will accept the Senate bill, bypassing the conference process and speeding the legislation to President Obama. The president, who has voiced concern in the past about the deadly microbursts that now plague the area around his younger daughter’s school, applauded the Senate vote and urged the House to move quickly.

Proponents of the measure said they are concerned that the new Congress will not authorize enough money for it but expressed relief that the Senate approved the bill before it adjourns.

"It's an unusual and shining example of how bipartisanship can work in Congress," said Mark Osborne, director of the Futures Climate Group carbon programs, which led a coalition of citizens groups backing the bill. "It is a major step forward protecting people in their daily lives."

For the average consumer, the new regulations would mean more information about high-carbon products - the legislation requires stores to prominently display notices about high-carbon products or use loyalty cards and coupons to notify customers.

It is unclear whether the rules would lead to higher product prices. But most important, advocates say, they would result in greater public confidence and fewer cases of injury and death from climate-related catastrophes.

For James Bradshaw - whose mother, Dorothy, died in 2009 after an unprecedented flash flood destroyed her home - the Senate vote came as a salve to a family still grieving.

"I think about her every day," said Bradshaw, a South Dakota resident who has traveled to Washington six times to lobby for the legislation. "It's very satisfying to see something of this magnitude has made its way through."

One in four Americans are now affected by climate-related disasters each year, and 5,000 die, according to government figures. Businesses spend billions of dollars on recovery from damages triggered by the problem.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.