The conspiracy behind the climate change bill — shocking new revelations!

Let’s return to Annie Leonard’s profoundly ignorant attack on the cap-and-trade bill working its way through congress. Leonard’s primary contention is that the bill is a con job cooked up by Wall Street. We know this to be false both because it doesn’t make any sense and because it’s easy to trace the actual lobbying on the bill to the usual suspects.

But in a way this analysis of lobbying dollars is still a step removed from the more fundamental issue: a large bloc of legislators simply have no interest in climate change. For structural reasons, this problem is particularly devilish in the Senate, but the House of Representatives is hardly an environmental utopia.

To take a random example, the Wall Street Journal last summer profiled Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota. You’ve probably never heard of Collin Peterson, but a few short months ago he held the fate of climate change legislation in his hands, and therefore, in a fairly literal sense, Collin Peterson dictated the future of the planet. How did he wield this God-like responsibility?

> Mr. Peterson, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, wants the party’s leaders to soften the climate bill’s impact on coal-burning power plants, scale back existing regulation of ethanol, and make other changes that, if adopted, could steer huge sums of money to farmers who engage in environmentally friendly practices…

> Mr. Peterson wants the climate measure changed to allow coal-burning power plants to get free of charge more of the permits they will be required to hold in order to generate carbon dioxide…

> After the administration released a report last week by government scientists warning of increased heat, pests, water shortages, disease and other impacts of climate change on crop and livestock production, Mr. Peterson laughed and said farmers in his district would welcome warmer temperatures after a recent cold spell.

Although it’s certainly possible that Collin Peterson’s decisions are being dictated by industry lobbyists, there’s no particular need to resort to conspiracy theories. More likely, Peterson doesn’t think climate change is a big deal, but he’s willing to have his vote bought if it means he can steer more money to his farm constituency. Hooray for democracy.

Of course, a bill eventually did get though the House. Our deeply dysfunctional Senate, on the other hand, requires a super-majority of 60 senators to agree on any significant piece of legislation. So what’s going on in the Senate? Well, in December, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb warned Obama not to get too cute in Copenhagen. This was shortly after he indicated he would not vote for a carbon cap, and instead offered his own energy plan, consisting of a massive handout to the nuclear industry. Again, there’s no need to go hunting for conspiracies here. Webb is from coal-rich Virginia. He’s a Democrat, but a conservative one, and he’s not particularly interested in climate change.

I haven’t singled these two out because they’re the two most evil members of our government. On the contrary, they’re fairly typical politicians with parochial interests tied to the regions they represent. Nor have I said anything at all about Republicans, whose utter unwillingness to negotiate on this issue gives enormous leverage to people like Collin Peterson, who are willing to bargain away their votes.

This state of affairs is certainly depressing. What’s to be done? For starters, it would be helpful if pseudo-environmentalists like Annie Leonard stopped making up bogus anti-corporatist conspiracy theories about the legislation we’re trying to pass. It’s true that the bills under consideration aren’t perfect, but that’s because too many politicians — and too many Americans — don’t want a perfect bill.

It would also be helpful to stop blaming Barack Obama for failing to deploy the magical powers he uses when we really, really wants Congress to do something for him. His hands were tied in Copenhagen by the U.S. Senate, and they’re tied at home by the U.S. Senate. Basically, the whole damned world’s hands are tied by the U.S. Senate.

Finally, it would be useful to focus energy *on the U.S. Senate*. This is easiest during election years, of course, but you can always drop a note to your senators expressing support for a climate change bill. They like to hear from you, and you can be sure they’re hearing from local utility owners…

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  1. Truthseeker37 - January 6, 2010

    We need to get the lobbyist money out of the political system. Otherwise these prostitutes masquerading as politicians will continue to sell their souls and votes to the corporate puppetmasters that pull their strings and make their mouths move to vote against REAL change. It is beyond frustrating.

  2. tim fitzgerald - January 6, 2010

    I am sick of the corporatist that are running the show in the governement. I thought that Obama might be a step in the right direction. But for the most part he seems to be Bush light. He is a continuation of the same old corporatist mentality. Big give aways to the corporations and very little care for the people. We need a change, which is what Obama was elected on, but he is a very luke warm change.
    Thanks, Tim Fitzgerald

  3. Kent R. Pipes - January 6, 2010

    If we are wrong about the effects of climate change and global warming, then our grandchildren will simply say we were misguided and laugh when they drink clean water and breathe clean air. But, if we are right, but we collectively do nothing about, our grandchildren will curse the ground we walk on and rue the day we were born. How we react to the impact of our current lifestyle on the earth’s environment is as much a pro-life issue as any. Millions of people’s lives are at stake in how we act in the next decade.

  4. Deborah Ullman - January 6, 2010

    So many are so discouraged, feeling helpless after the disappointing lack of substantial agreements in Copenhagen! Many are now aware how our senators, our elected public servants are serving the narrow interests of the self-serving corporate giants rather than the people who inhabit our planet and our planet’s future if it is to have one! Don’t they realize a drastically changed climate is not good for business?!
    One piece we overlook is the horrific environmental damage caused by war — our senators must be persuaded to move toward serious legislation to slow climate change and stop funding wars and aggression around the world. Where are the courageous spokespeople for common sense solutions? We used to have some statesmen/stateswomen who would take the lead on urgent issues. Apparently those candidates can no longer get elected.

  5. Paul S - January 6, 2010

    As Adam suggests, one of the most effective, biggest bang for your buck thing to do is contact your senators. Phone, email, and best of all snail mail them stating your opinion, desire, or complaint.
    Keep it short and get to the point fast (that’s all they take away from your note anyway).

  6. Mark from YERT - January 6, 2010

    Were Obama’s hands really tied by the Senate? With the EPA’s finding that CO2 is a pollutant, my understanding is that he can regulate CO2 in any manner deemed appropriate by the EPA– which could probably take a much more firm stance against emissions than the Senate. Does anybody have more information on this? I’d love to know more of the nuances. Seems to me, though perhaps with limited information, that Obama could have acted much more strongly in Copenhagen than he ultimately did.

  7. Adam Stein - January 6, 2010

    In short, yes, Obama’s hands are really tied by the Senate. It is not the case at all that the EPA can regulate CO2 in any manner deemed appropriate. On the contrary, both environmentalists and industry seem to agree that using the EPA to regulate CO2 would be highly sub-optimal. The good news, such as it is, is that the threat of such regulation is one of the few things keeping the Senate bill alive.
    There’s a ton of information available on the implications of the CO2 endangerment ruling for potential legislation. A great entry point is here.
    Clinton’s experience with the Kyoto Protocol should is a good case study on the limits to presidential power when the Senate refuses to cooperate. Of course, when you add in an intransigent China, the proceedings were basically doubly cursed.

  8. Alisha Holloway - January 6, 2010

    Well said!

  9. Steven Carter - January 6, 2010

    There’s no doubt that Washington is in the pockets of big corporations and banks. Their narrow agendas have been taking us down the road to collapse for better than a decade now and actually for much longer than that. While the American people suffer the consequences of the inability of our government to govern the oligarchs continue to sequester more and more power as we move away from democracy towards fascism. Unless we the people begin to grasp the extent to which these megalomaniacs have stolen our democracy decisions that will effect our children and future generations are indeed being made that will be looked upon as ludicrous.
    We must take back our democracy. It was Thomas Jefferson who said each generation needs a revolution to clean up the despots that find ways to usurp democracy through greed, avarice and corruption. The revolution is way past due.

  10. Den Mark Wichar - January 6, 2010

    It’s grotesque that the corrupt senate holds so much power, given that they are the least democratically elected legislative body in the “free” world. Consider the stupidity of a nation that continues to allow Wyoming the same number of senators as California. Totally bonkers. We deserve our mess; dolphins don’t.
    Den Mark, Vancouver WA

  11. Misanthropic Scott - January 6, 2010

    As a terrapass customer and supporter, I am offended by your repeated attacks on Annie Leonard who makes some very good points. It is highly unprofessional of you. Those who read this should remain aware that this is the opinion of a for-profit corporation based on the idea of making a profit from carbon trading on a cap and trade system. Clearly this has caused some bias in an otherwise good organization.
    Further, a revenue neutral carbon tax actually would be dramatically better for the environment and for people, though not corporations, who have to pay for energy and could get a tax break from a revenue neutral carbon tax.
    You really should stop this awful attack on a solution that is on firmer ground than cap and trade, which will take the money from the carbon tax (which cap and trade still is) and funnel it into Wall Street instead of Main Street.
    As environmentalists, if you truly are, you should be ashamed of yourselves for this silly attack on other mostly like-minded people when there are truly evil people out there trying to avoid any hope of preserving a habitable biosphere.
    For any who are really interested in the issue, please see another organization’s opinion, perhaps one who has no financial interest in the choice of a carbon tax or a cap and trade system.
    Further, if there is any doubt about the effectiveness of a carbon tax in anyone’s mind, just look at how quickly people stopped buying SUVs and began buying priuses and other efficient vehicles when gasoline was over $4/gallon.
    Lastly, and this may be the most important point, if you want to argue with someone over a cap and trade versus carbon tax, why take on Annie Leonard instead of NASA’s Jim Hansen? Is it because you know you have no arguments capable of combating the venerable Jim Hansen at the forefront of climate research?
    I say again that while I support terrapass and even put my money where my mouth is, I am ashamed of this obviously biased attack on Annie Leonard.

  12. Adam Stein - January 6, 2010

    Couple of comments:
    First, I have never attacked a carbon tax, nor even argued for the superiority of cap-and-trade to a carbon tax. A revenue-neutral carbon tax would potentially be a great policy (I say potentially because carbon taxes face many of the same pitfalls as cap-and-trade), and if legislation supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax had passed in the House and was now close to passage in the Senate, I would be urging people to write their senators in support of it.
    Second, having a handful of good points is not enough to excuse Annie Leonard’s egregious attacks on environmentalists. Why are you not similarly offended by the gross mischaracterizations in her video?
    Third, I wrote about James Hansen two weeks ago. In that post, I actually considerably underplayed how weak I find Hansen’s arguments, primarily because there’s no good reason to endlessly rehash this debate. But for people who are interested, I wholeheartedly agree with Clark Williams-Derry on this topic (including Clark’s praise for carbon taxes).
    Fourth, I think it’s fine for people to disagree on this topic, and I welcome your opinion. I do hope, though, that on a practical level we can all join together in putting pressure on the U.S. Senate to act, because that is the real battle.

  13. GT - January 6, 2010

    Glad to hear your intelligent comments on Annie Leonard! Sorry that TerraPass has chosen to take the stance it has on her perceptive, cogent follow-up to The Story of Stuff. Leonard goes to the heart of the issues, where real solutions will come with the genuine willingness to embrace new dreams for the quality of life we wish all on the planet to have — for generations to come. In its disservice to the kind of deeply committed environmentalists Annie Leonard represents, TerraPass has lost the support I’d felt pleased to give through my own and gift subscriptions in the past couple of years.

  14. Ed - January 6, 2010

    If there’s a Corporate Conspiracy against climate change legislation, the corporate interests aren’t alone. A Pew Research study in October found fewer Americans than ever (35%) believe global warming is real and is caused by human activity. And when it’s as cold as it’s been recently in 2/3 of the U.S., my guess is that most people are thinking that a little extra red in the thermometer wouldn’t be a problem.
    Republicans unite to block any climate change legislation. Democrats seem to be looking out for their own local interests. China has long told the rest of the world to butt out of its affairs. Human nature is to be more concerned with the immediate than something down the road. The only places where the people and the government seem united in saying climate change is an urgent issue in need of being immediately addressed are places like the Maldives, and they’re way over there, so they don’t matter.
    The result seems to be that people who say this is a truly urgent problem that requires serious lifestyle adjustments are seen as Chicken Littles trying to force everyone else to do what they (the Chickens) want them (everyone else) to do. So the Corporate Interests and Republicans and a bunch of Democrats and China are seen as sticking up for The People. Which leads to the conclusion that nothing serious will be done about climate change unless all of Greenland and Antarctica melt at once.
    Hard to stay positive.

  15. Misanthropic Scott - January 7, 2010

    Well, I’ve read your critique of Hansen. It seems odd to me that you didn’t address one of his very important points. With Hansen’s fee-and-dividend solution, people will have the means to reduce their carbon usage. With Waxman-Markey, this is not the case. The money goes to Wall Street instead.
    Haven’t we given Wall Street enough money recently?
    This is a significant point that you gloss over or ignore through your critique. People, especially those of limited means, really do need money in order to reduce their carbon emissions. Insulation costs money, new appliances cost money, replacing that old car with a fuel efficient one costs money, etc., etc., etc. You and I may have the means to voluntarily buy offsets and hence likely have the means to buy better vehicles and light bulbs and other energy saving items, but not everyone does. A fee and dividend system addresses this. Waxman-Markey does not.
    Making everything dependent on carbon cost more without providing the means by which people can reduce carbon may be not only ineffective but downright cruel.
    If you do believe cap and trade has a better chance of political success than a carbon tax, why support Waxman-Markey over the far simpler, more effective, and more equitable Cantwell bill? The latter, at just 32 pages, would do far more for the climate and for Main Street than the former. It is simple to implement and to enforce, being a bill that caps carbon at the source, and 75% of the profits go back to people who will have real trouble paying the higher energy bills.
    From Grist:
    Full Text of the Cantwell bill:
    Lastly, I think there may be somewhat of a disconnect here. It’s all well and good to talk about the compromises we must make to get something passed, but the something must be at least partially effective. And, the partially better be a high percentage of the way there. The Waxman-Markey bill just may not be enough of a step to even count as a first step.
    Physics will not wait for politics.
    With clathrates already melting on the north coast of Alaska, the gulf stream already 30% slower, ice melt exceeding all but the most dire predictions, and many other observed effects already upon us, we don’t have much time to go through the normal political baby steps type of process that might be acceptable with so many other issues.

  16. Adam Stein - January 7, 2010

    “With Hansen’s fee-and-dividend solution, people will have the means to reduce their carbon usage. With Waxman-Markey, this is not the case. The money goes to Wall Street instead.”
    There are two really big errors contained here, the first conceptual, the second specific to the implementation of Waxman-Markey.
    The conceptual error is the notion that the value of the credits in cap-and-trade are somehow funneled to Wall Street. Wall Street will in fact make money from carbon trading, but these fees are some tiny sliver of the total value of credits traded. A tiny sliver of a large number can still be a good amount of money, but the notion that all the money from credits goes to Wall Street under cap-and-trade is just completely contrary to how the system works. In fact, as more and more allowances over time are auctioned rather than given away, the bulk of money will go to the government to be disbursed.
    The second error is that Waxman-Markey does in fact dedicate about 83% of the revenue raised to reducing the impact of carbon pricing on consumers. The mechanism isn’t as simple as Hansen’s dividend. Rather, it comes in the form of electricity rebates, efficiency programs, etc. But it is a large amount of money, and it’s targeted specifically at helping households cope with the transition.
    I like Hansen’s proposal. I like the Cantwell bill (although it’s simplicity is something of a mirage — it leaves a lot of stuff out). I like Waxman-Markey and I like Kerry-Boxer. No bill that makes it through Congress will be strong enough by itself to solve the climate problem, so it will be strengthened over time, particularly as new international treaties are struck. Progress is frustratingly slow. It always is.

  17. Misanthropic Scott - January 7, 2010

    I was not aware that Waxman-Markey gives back 83%. As for Wall St. though, you are under a serious misconception.
    Upon $1.7T of subprime mortgages, over $45T of securities were created. Actually, that’s just the credit default swaps, the real total of all the CMOs, CDOs, ABSs, and CDSs may be unknown.
    We have yet to see what securitization Wall Street will come up with for carbon credits. We have no idea how big a bubble, and yes, it will be a bubble, will be built upon them. I don’t think we can easily predict just what Wall Street will do with these if they are not restricted from building carbon credit derivatives. Certainly there will be futures, swaps, possibly swaptions, and many others. But, what new securities will they package on top of those? What effect will it have if it all comes tumbling down?
    As for progress being frustratingly slow, I think that is a bad choice of words. A better choice might be suicidally slow. Nature will not wait while we dally, regardless of the reasons for the delay.

  18. Adam Stein - January 7, 2010

    This is just not true. Derivatives are side bets made on other assets. Wall Street can shuffle that paper around all day long, but it doesn’t mean any new money is flowing their way. To make a really rough analogy, you and I can stand on someone’s front lawn and make a $45 trillion bet on the color of the wallpaper inside the house. One of us might end up rich and one of us might end up poor, but the homeowner isn’t affected.
    Think about it. If the housing derivatives represented actual currency, that $45 trillion would be three times the annual U.S. GDP. Which isn’t possible, of course, because the U.S. GDP includes Wall Street. The numbers don’t add up.
    I agree that climate change moves at its own pace, and it certainly isn’t going to wait around for environmentalists to work out their anger toward Wall Street. That’s what I find ultimately so maddening about the sort of grandstanding that Annie Leonard indulges in — she makes fallacious arguments in favor of further delay. As they say, with friends like these…

  19. Misanthropic Scott - January 7, 2010

    It’s not as simple as a $45T bet. It’s highly leveraged and repackaged at multiple levels as the behemoth grows and each level is used to back the next and more leverage is added. And, now that all the brokerages are BHCs and FHCs, the leverage will likely come in the form of cheap loans from the fed.
    So, when they cause the third great bank depression, what will happen to the underlying papers upon which it is built? Maybe nothing. Maybe something very serious. Maybe they’ll just take down the whole economy (again) and no one will give even a single rat buttock, let alone an entire rat’s ass, about the environment as we go into economic collapse.
    And, will it matter whether the instruments underlying all the leveraged securitization were carbon credits or some other randomly chosen asset? I don’t know. I’d strongly prefer not building that collapse upon carbon.

  20. dlmchale - January 12, 2010

    Aye, some of the flashest comment upon comment seen in a while. Annie talks with a check book, as most of us. Fault the building, the engineer or the architect not the window washer.
    The CEO’s are just laughing their butts off right now, ‘cus we battle over unknowns, no change is $$$ to them. Define it Adam, what is Terrapass’s position? and then let’s move on to links to our senators, please.
    Chevron is buying up hundreds of battery designs right with the plan to build the new age battery-now do they trade carbon credits with themselves? Wall Street makes money, I’m thinking. The new battery will be good as well. Lest, we all be branded with the term environmental activists and the Cato group disses us all on Fox–the battery will still be good (or the plan for the battery).
    Got to stop the coal burning NOW! If the EPA does it good; if environmental activists do it great; or if industry just finds the cost of doing businees to great-I don’t care-I want my new Grandson to breath on the planet.
    Judy Bonds told me: “Ain’t no jobs on a dead planet” I’d add except heroic efforts to save homo sapiens-sapien.
    “Wall of fame and wall of shame”. If someone even cares later. That’s where we have come to, we don’t get a ‘free pass’ to some funzone becasue we thought about it and discussed it on a blogg. Crap go to and give ’em the terrapass dough or NASA”s dough-it ain’t going to matter is it Friends? You ain’t going to dismiss your argument to donate capitalist dollars or tax revenue dollars are you, really?
    The Rose Foundation that provides training for all non-profs to help them with their ‘bake sales’ and dinner fund raisers tells us we get 92% of our donations from OURSELVES.
    “Come Together, Right Now” Johnny

  21. TomJ - January 21, 2010

    The Mass. election of S. Brown will have an impact like it or not. My prediction for 2010. Cap & Trade is stuck in the mud. After the mid-term elections it will buried. Perhaps the EPA can attempt to regulate but my guess is those regulatory efforts will be tied up in the courts. If the Repubs significantly increase their numbers in Congress energy bills will pass but Climate change legislation is dead. And you could see bills to stop or reduce any EPA actions.

  22. TomJ - January 21, 2010

    Add to that the SCOTUS ruling today on financial regulation of corporate contributions. McCain-Feingold is effectively dead. This means that business can contribute directly to political campaigns. Comprehend.