I arrived yesterday morning at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing “Copenhagen and Beyond: Is there a Successor to the Kyoto Protocol?” I had hoped that there would be decent discussion on climate change mitigation processes, but my optimism quickly deteriorated into disappointment. As a recent college graduate with aspirations to gear my career toward sustainable development efforts in the U.S. and abroad, I was embarrassed to hear congressmen tirelessly deny the mere existence of global warming, while countries ranging from China to Spain have long accepted it as a reality, and have placed a real emphasis on alternative energy and emissions reductions. Even after Chancellor Merkel’s urgent call to Congress, urging members to not throw in the towel on domestic legislation on the eve of the UNFCCC Copenhagen summit, members exposed the deplorable reality of American leadership on climate change action.

Nothing Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) said came as a surprise. The session got off to a positive start, with the chairman outlining his personal high hopes, but limited expectations for enforceable guidelines coming out of Copenhagen in December. I suppose Minority Leader Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) skepticism could have been foreseen as well. She emphasized her concern on the economic burden the United States would carry, and the low levels of participation she claimed developing nations were showing — remarks which Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern was swift to disqualify as untrue and exaggerated.

With Ms. Ros-Lehitnen’s statements, the evidence of why America has failed to pass domestic legislation on climate change began to seep through. Ms. Ros-Lehitnen, echoed by her Republican counterparts, pointed out that American sovereignty is compromised by the creation of “a powerful, unaccountable supervising body that would lead to corruption and significant money losses.”

Mr. Faleomavaega of American Samoa (D) called for immediate action to address impacts that directly implicate the island state and the world. In a shameless response, Mr. Rohrabacher (R-CA) ignored his Democratic colleague and went on and on (and on), about how the term that used to be “global warming” has been thrown out by alarmists who were proven wrong, and has now been replaced by “climate change.” Rohrabacher continued, calling climate change “a mirage of propaganda created by the scientific community” to somehow fulfill self-interested purposes. What purposes, you might ask? Good question.

In a rebuttal to Mr. Rohrabacher, Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) offered his theory on why climate change legislation had not yet been passed in the U.S.: “Unfortunately some people in Congress still believe the world is flat.”

In the midst of a constant back and forth between Democratic and Republican Congressmen, it was very easy to lose perspective of why the hearing was held in the first place. It was not to set a stage to debate whether climate change or global warming are real or not – that part was accepted decades ago – but rather to address what steps should be taken by Congress to achieve the best outcome in Denmark. As Congressman Gerry Connolly from Virginia (D) pointed out, “the days of climate change denial are over, thank God. This [Copenhagen] is an opportunity for the U.S. to join the international community and lead in the way forward,” starting with climate change.

I do not lack sympathy for workers living states that suffer from high unemployment and bleak prospects of getting their old industries back. But denying the necessity for action on climate change in the name of prioritizing job security in the same old manufacturing sectors that got America in the polluted position it now finds itself is simply not an option anymore. Pitting climate change against good, stable jobs is unconscionable, especially when so much is at stake for Americans and populations abroad.

Mr. Stern put it best: “Dealing with climate change is like dealing with a sinkhole in your backyard when your home is burning down.” Unfortunately for us, if we do not deal with the sinkhole that is climate change, there will be no benefit to saving our burning homes.

Rebecca Dreyfus is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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