As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Hopeful Sadness On Cap And Trade Legislation

After a spirited tussle in the House, climate and energy legislation moves to the Senate, where the chances are frankly much less foreordained than even the House.

As Grist reported earlier this week, environmental groups are already working to secure improvements in the Senate.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, issued a statement congratulating House leaders for the landmark passage. Boxer has pledged to have her own climate bill, likely based on Waxman-Markey, passed out of committee in August [...]

Senate Democrats’ last attempt to pass a climate bill failed by a large margin in June 2008, and senators have already rejected an attempt to exempt the climate bill from being filibustered. It takes 60 votes to end debate on legislation in the Senate; Democrats hold 59 seats in the Senate (60 if you count Al Franken, of course). But a number of Midwestern and Southern Democrats have expressed concerns about passing the legislation, and few observers expect more than two or three GOP lawmakers to vote for a climate bill.

Meanwhile, the energy bill approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week was significantly weaker than provisions in Waxman-Markey. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants every committee in the Senate to complete work on climate and energy legislation by mid-September, so there is still a good deal of time left to shape legislation before the Senate adjourns for the year in November or December.

The lack of outside grassroots energy for this already-weakened bill means that all the compromises move the bill to the right, and at some point, the fragile coalition supporting it will break when liberals finally say "Enough!" While where House members voted depended in large part on whether their district favored Obama, in the less accountable Senate that dynamic will not be nearly as widespread. Right now, this bill looks doomed to crash on the rocks in the stream accompanying Claire McCaskill's Twitter feed.

I wouldn't call the 212 who voted against Waxman-Markey traitors, but political animals who don't see the politics well-aligned on cap and trade, and fear retribution at the polls. I think it's wrong for the President to use those calculations to absolve them of their votes, but the reality is that progressives haven't sealed the debate in the country to any real extent. I doubt that Republicans can make this an election issue like with the BTU tax in 1993, and the right-wing tea partiers trying to string up the 8 Republicans who voted for the bill are sure to fall flat. But the mandate for action is clearly not warming as quickly as the planet.

One of the favorite arguments of climate-change deniers is “but it was warmer in the late 90s.” In fact, the odds are good that I’ll get that argument from George Will on This Weak tomorrow. I basically know the answer: temperature is a noisy time series, so if you pick and choose your dates over a short time span you can usually make whatever case you want. That’s why you need to look at longer trends and do some statistical analysis. But I thought that it would be a good thing to look at the data myself.

So here’s average annual global temperature since 1880, shown as .01 degrees C deviation from the 1951-80 average.

What this tells me is that annual temperature is indeed noisy: there have been many large fluctuations, indeed much larger than the up-and-down in the last decade or so. But the direction of change is unmistakable if you take the longer view. The fitted line in the figure is a 3rd-degree polynomial, but any sort of smoothing would tell you that there is a massive upward trend.

I continue to maintain that, in the end, we will have to innovate and adapt our way out of the climate crisis rather than legislate our way out of it. That doesn't mean we forget about pushing for strong policies to save the planet, just an expression of reality.

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