Seeking to convince the world that the United States finally is serious about slashing Earth-threatening carbon emissions, President Obama is urging Congress to fast-track his plan for a carbon cap-and-trade system.

Obama, noting that 184 countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, hopes to have the far-reaching legislation enacted in time for the next U.N. environmental conference in Copenhagen this December.

The Kyoto agreement expires in 2012, and it’s high time for the United States—an environmental pariah during George W. Bush’s eight years—to become a global leader on this crucial issue.

Obama’s ambitious goal would require all Americans to abandon wanton consumption and adopt a green lifestyle that would reduce our nation’s carbon emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2012 and 80 percent by 2050.

To do so, he may have to alienate two of America’s most steadfast allies, Italy and Poland—countries currently led by governments highly simpatico with the Bush-Cheney policy of pooh-poohing the well-documented threat of catastrophic climate change.

Obama will have to use all of his rhetorical skills and perhaps even hint at strong sanctions to force the Poles and the Italians not to veto the European Union’s aggressive cap-and-trade program—the same regimen he would like to install here.

At the same time, he must convince American motorists to give up their gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury sedans and adopt a “carbon-lite” lifestyle that turns its back on economic gluttony in favor of conservation and recycling.

With Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, Obama should have enough votes on Capitol Hill—especially now that Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has vanquished recalcitrant auto industry ally John Dingell, D-Mich., as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Waxman has promised a bill mandating carbon emission caps by Memorial Day. His longtime ally, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is committed to ramming the legislation through her chamber and onto the president’s desk.

For low-elevation island nations such as the Maldives that are already affected by the damaging effects of rising sea-levels, quick-action by Obama will be viewed almost as a biblical deliverance. Globally it should receive a wave of standing ovations.

Obama has already signaled a major change from Bush policies by ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to review a rule that prevented California and 17 other states from adopting stricter automobile emission controls than those required by the federal government.

If the EPA grants the states a waiver from current weaker federal emission standards, the move will provide an important kick-start for a new federal policy that can be proudly taken by U.S. representatives to the meeting in Denmark.

It is estimated that a U.S. cap-and-trade emissions trading system on carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions could create a $1 trillion market by 2020.

That kind of vigorous activity will ensure creation of millions of “green collar” jobs that will transform America. Such a new market will provide a powerful engine to move a damaged American economy far away from today’s rocky shoals.

Opponents of cap-and-trade legislation dubiously argue that such a system will destroy the U.S. economy—a mind-boggling assertion when you consider the huge number of new jobs it will create. And it’s ironic in the extreme because their good friends on Wall Street—working with Bush’s pro-business regulators—already have accomplished the destruction of most of the economy.

The new administration is duty-bound to bring the United States into line with the rest of the world in embracing Kyoto and preparing for Copenhagen.

In doing so, President Obama has a chance to redeem America in the court of world opinion by joining the avant garde of the green revolution.

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