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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Direct Line Between Weakness Of Climate Bill And Weak Public Reaction

The Senate version of the climate and energy bill has been delayed until September, which means a few more months of debates over whether it's worth it to pass at all. The Waxman-Markey climate bill included so many compromises and hedges and backdowns that many, including the respected Dr. James Hansen, find it unworthy of passage.

With a workable climate bill in his pocket, President Obama might have been able to begin building that global consensus in Italy. Instead, it looks as if the delegates from other nations may have done what 219 U.S. House members who voted up Waxman-Markey last month did not: critically read the 1,400-page American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 and deduce that it's no more fit to rescue our climate than a V-2 rocket was to land a man on the moon.

I share that conclusion, and have explained why to members of Congress before and will again at a Capitol Hill briefing on July 13. Science has exposed the climate threat and revealed this inconvenient truth: If we burn even half of Earth's remaining fossil fuels we will destroy the planet as humanity knows it. The added emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will set our Earth irreversibly onto a course toward an ice-free state, a course that will initiate a chain reaction of irreversible and catastrophic climate changes.

Some, like Joseph Romm, disagree violently with this.

Hansen claims "For all its 'green' aura, Waxman-Markey locks in fossil fuel business-as-usual and garlands it with a Ponzi-like 'cap-and-trade' scheme." Not so. I have previously explained why W-M takes us sharply off of the BAU emissions path over the next decade, probably reducing coal use more than 25% by 2020 (see "Game changer, Part 2: Why unconventional natural gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet"). And then it requires a 42% emissions reduction by 2030 and an 83% reduction by 2050, which will drive a massive energy transition over the next few decades.

The global economy is indeed a Ponzi scheme, but this is the first piece of legislation by any major country that makes a serious effort to end that Ponzi scheme.

You can read both of these efforts and draw your own conclusions. I would simply say that the environmental community, including people like Hansen, have generally failed to create the urgency necessary to pass the kind of bill he would prefer. All you have to do is look at this recent poll, showing that less than half of all Americans believe that climate change is the result of human activity. This may not even be the fault of Hansen and climate activists - this problem is uniquely ill-suited for the American political system to solve. It's long-term and not entirely tangible. It forces parochial lawmakers to act in the global interest. But the facts are that under the current structure, a straight-up carbon tax cannot pass, and anyway would be completely flawed with numerous loopholes, because it would have to run the exact same gauntlet that the Waxman-Markey bill has. It's dishonest to glorify all the positives of a bill that hasn't been through that ringer, and demonize the negatives of one that has.

Many climate activists have been valiant - Greenpeace draping a banner on Mount Rushmore is fantastic - but they have not broken through in the popular imagination. We have not seen the kind of pressure necessary, and furthermore the mainline enviro groups have been happy to pass whatever they can pass, and signaled that so early in the debate that they nullified any effect they could have on lawmakers, and disappointed progressives who could mount energy on that score. As a result you get politicians happy to take duplicitous stances like this:

I sent several emails to Rep. Glenn Nye urging his support for the ACES climate change bill and more emails expressing my disappointment after he voted against it.

I received two different emails from him in response:

In one email, Nye said I will be pleased to know the bill passed, praising it as "a comprehensive approach that charts a new course toward a clean energy economy" and "will create jobs, help end our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and combat global warming" (without ever mentioning that he voted against it).

In the other email, Nye said I will be pleased to know that he voted against it "because we do not need another tax on American families during this time of economic hardship."

Oops! Nye can't have it both ways. Thelma Drake was consistently wrong, but at least she was consistent.

The environmental community simply must find other ways to intensify the debate. Otherwise, our political system will not produce what's necessary.

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