If asked what major global shift occurred in the United States last week, how many would answer “the loss of the King of Pop?”

With all due respect to Michael Jackson and his family, far more important history was made in the United States, but was lost in coverage of his sudden and tragic death.

While Canadians have been enjoying the summer, heading for the cottage, firing off bottle rockets, and watching Thriller retrospectives, the U.S. has become the global leader on efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

No kidding! Do you feel a bit like Rip van Winkle waking up to a different world? At the end of June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that mandates a 17 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and an 83 per cent reduction by 2050. The reductions are to be accomplished by putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions and instituting a cap-and-trade system.

Also included is a mandate that 20 per cent of energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

To maintain perspective, many countries have set more aggressive targets, but given the per capita energy use in the U.S., no legislative mandate to date in any country would have greater global impact.

What does this mean for us? Potentially a common market for trading carbon credits. We’ve been disappointed in the past about Canada pulling out of the Kyoto obligations and developing modest, much longer-term objectives (i.e., for future governments to worry about).

With the current global economy, more aggressive action to curb carbon emissions is untenable (probably more politically than economically). But, examined in the light of America’s move, our government’s policies seem brilliant. Stephen Harper is a genius (stop laughing)! If a common market for carbon is established under NAFTA, Canadian industries may become cleaner more by carrot than by stick. Industries would have an incentive to emit less carbon, being able to sell remaining credits.

Now, before running out and investing in windmills, an important caveat is the U.S. bill must still be passed by the Senate, which will consider it later this summer.

The legislation could be weakened or killed outright. We’ll have to wait and see, and hope.

– Sophia Dore is an environmental scientist with Conestoga-Rovers & Associates. Andrew Laursen is an assistant professor at Ryerson University; earthtones.metro@gmail.com.