Climate bill officially dead

Written by tim


The climate bill is officially dead in the Senate, and I’m still wading through the numerous eulogies to figure out how I feel about that fact.

I’m not surprised, even though we’ve recently used these pages to buffer ourselves with hopes that something could work out. But I am extremely disappointed.

I think Dave Roberts has the best angle when he says the number one reason the climate bill died like it did was because of undemocratic rules that bind the US Senate.

The Senate has considered (in committee) a climate bill in each of the last 4 sessions. This one started out with a lot of – what’s that word again – hope. Although climate bills have had strong bipartisan support in the past, the bill this year failed not so much because there wasn’t a majority of Senators who would vote yes, but because there wasn’t a supermajority willing to stop debate on the bill so a vote could be held. Supporters of a comprehensive energy and climate bill could get to 50, in other words, but not to 60.

The economic effects of enacting a climate bill are distributed regionally across the US, and so the political alliances do not break down strictly along partisan lines. This session’s House bill only passed 219-212, with 44(!) mostly Midwestern and coal-state Democrats voting no. It’s this regional split that has doomed climate bills in the more representative House in the past, and I remember a time when the Senate seemed more likely to pass a climate bill. That was just 3 years ago, when Lieberman-Warner had a good showing on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, the earth continues to heat up because of greenhouse gases deposited in the atmosphere largely due to human activity. It is still my belief that until those gases are efficiently priced into our economic system, that system will continue to subsidize pollution to the detriment of the global environment. A comprehensive climate and energy bill will not become law this year, but I plan on supporting efforts to enact legislation in the next Congress and the one after that, and on until the problem has abated. Sometimes hope is all I have left.

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  1. Monty

    Have we given up?
    It is a simple question yet I am quite sincere in asking it. A few years ago it seemed that the entire world was centered on fixing the climate disaster ahead of us, but now nearly every country in the world has turned away. I think, to some extent, that governments are currently doing little more than lip service to this issue because other “more important” matters are front and center. (Do not ask me to explain how a recession is more important than the possible end of current models of civilization due to climate change, but that appears to be the universal conclusion.)
    We all knew that a climate bill was not going to fix the issue, so this would have been a very big step but not the answer. It is simply more alarming that we were unable to make this step and what that means moving forward.
    On the bright side, perhaps we will finally create a fusion reactor to supply all the energy needs of the world and humans can continue to multiply like rabbits. Not holding my breath, however.

  2. David

    Fusion will be wonderful, and it “will” happen, just “30 years” from now… but even with unlimited power we might, possibly, bump into more concrete limits. Soil, water, biological diversity – I’m afraid we evolved solving problems right in front of our faces and the vast majority of us,myself included, aren’t much good at focusing on long term risks.
    So I don’t have much hope. I think we will continue to burn coal and use petroleum,, until they run out. It’s fun and “natural” to consume now without worrying about consequences, and we will, largely, continue to do this until we run out of whatever we’re consuming – or, significantly, it becomes too expensive. Of course we will be phasing in renewables and make lots of progress, but it won’t be enough to stop or even significantly slow global climate change for the foreseeable future.
    The one thing I truly believe would make a difference is if everyone had to pay all the costs of our choices – all the externalized costs. If gas was $15 a gallon, milk was $10-12, and steak and chicken were $18 a pound, our consumption patterns would drastically change and “expensive” alternatives would look very attractive. But, as the Climate Bill (and I’m not a huge fan of Cap and Trade), Farm Bills, et. al. continue to point out, politically this can never happen. I believe our taxes will continue to support the unsustainable, and outrageously expensive, status quo. The real costs of addressing the issues are relatively small, but the political costs for those making the choices would be extreme, and likely career ending – all politicians remember Jimmy Carter and his sweater.
    I sure hope I’m wrong.
    Have a nice weekend.

  3. Jeb

    We’ve really got to rethink our strategy and objectives if we couldn’t get a bill passed this year. Maybe we should put more effort on the state legislation.
    Also, we should consider joining with others who are calling for actions to address the widespread dysfunction in Congress.

  4. Tim

    I continue to think that as the weather shifts in response to climate change, the general public becomes both more aware and more inspired to do something about a truly global problem.
    It’s a rough problem, this climate change thing. It’s global, seems to be happening slowly (not on a geologic timescale, of course), and the effects are not evenly distributed. Add to that the enormous complexity of the climate system, feedbacks, tipping points, etc, and the whole concept of preventing climate change can seem like an impossible task.
    Going to the moon probably seemed impossible to folks, too. Both goals are, in one sense, advanced engineering problems that have multidisciplinary solutions. Climate change has the added complexity of needing significant social and political buy in. The engineering solution is known: reduce greenhouse gases. The social/political solution is not necessarily a given, but many seem to think that pricing carbon pollution into the economy (reducing externalities) via cap-and-trade or a carbon tax would probably work. Now the task is to implement the political goal to realize the engineering solution.

  5. Eric B

    Well, we should do our absolute best as individuals to conserve and live below our means. If we’re kind and helpful to others, they will wonder what makes us so happy and be inspired to do the same. However, the consequences of our greed must be paid for and it will probably be our great grandchildren who will curse us.

  6. Anonymous

    Well there was no concensus and this was because every one expected others to yield for supporting one’s status quo. The blame finally lies with US which emits over 20Tons per year per head and it is 6 times of Europe and 3 times the developing world on per head basis. The developing world has a possibility to adapt to new ways if funding & technology is supported – but as far as US goes – there are no plans ever to cut anything at all. Ibn fact it is seen as a matter of national pride to stay put- which is not the best way to lead a carbon change.
    I am sure that the massive emphasis on electric bikes ( 30 million on-road) by China and in India the ridiculously high prices of cars( Camry 50K$, Corolla 30K$, Hyundai Accent 18K$ ) and gasoline ( appx $6 per gallon) are effective ways to cut user base & hence emission – that can also be considered by USA.
    I would like to think that US concept of driving a 2.5 ton SUV at 100 Miles/ hr to get one guy around daily basis should be accepted as a sign of excess!

  7. E. Daniel Ayres

    The unmentioned most effective step you can take which solves the problem is don’t have children!!! That is what we did based on science current in the 1960’s. We are living comfortably and have a much smaller carbon footprint that the majority of folks who “want to save the planet for their children.” We know that the “sustainable population level” of the planet is at or below the 3 billion mark. Now is is approaching two and a half times that level. Education, especially for woment, especially in the “third world” is the most important population control strategy identified that is almost universally supportable.

  8. dennis mchale

    Aye, a tough time. The really really smart guys tell us 30 years, on the outside, many say less. The difficulties of just oil at 180 dollars a barrel on the ecomonic foundation will create the population reduction.
    The single thing the gulf oil disaster showed us clearly, we are on the other side of peak oil.
    Nukes before solar on every home? I guess if the government is going to underwright the insurance on the gen#3 product and of course give huge dollars to those poor struggling nuke plant builders-we’ll see how quickly we can also use up the potable water-oh the insurance is underwritten by-taxpayers!
    The Euro’s can make the change and do it but not America?
    Wendell Berry writes about an old Appalachian landowner who for generations had property in his family history, but his neighbor sold his to an energy cartel. The energy cartel stripped the land thru mountain top removal until the mountain next to the old landowner was gone. The old landowner, when up to see the missing mountain just right next to his land’s property line and looked down about 800 ft to were the mountain had been.
    The old landowner’s Bud said to him; “well I guess you’ll quit and sell out now”. The old landowner said “Quit HELL I ain’t even started”.
    Share this with your friends and family. It’s not ok. Don’t let the conversation go to; ‘yea well’. WE are all smarter than this. This can be done. My children and grandchildren are counting on me, on you. Climate law is dead because we let it be so. Do not wring our hands and proclaim, some such ‘make me feel better’ stuff like, well it it weren’t for China, or India, or those 3rd world countries-stop there and cross your hands and say to ourselves all the goof quotes you need, but it all has to start with each and everyone of us.
    When the elected few come around looking for that ‘buck’—ask ’em flat out; were is my climate bill what date will you support and put into law a price for carbon?
    Finally, today all over the news outlets is a news reel of a small calf stuck in a fence during a flood, two other adult cows went to rescue and save this calf from drowning. Heck friends we ain’t even doing that.
    Hey, let’s get going: “Harry don’t speak for us”.
    Thanks for reading,

  9. Jaggu

    As a global leader it is USA’s commitment that will really change the carbon equation , and without that the effort will fail completely.
    I recall a telling statistic – Oil demand of California state alone equals that of entire India.

  10. Woody

    You’re right, “we evolved solving problems right in front of our faces”, which is the way each species has always succeeded. For the first time, a species (us), has the ability to perceive that it needs to change the way it does things for long term benefit. This has been too difficult for the U.S. up until now, but if the current extremes of weather continue or even worsen, it may have the effect of whacking us upside the head with a 2X4, eliciting a reaction as universally supported as our response to 9/11.

  11. Ed

    Look at the Comments section of any article about the environment on Yahoo. In the midst of record heat in the US and killer heat and smog in Moscow the science deniers are still saying that the climate isn’t changing and even if it is it’s not man’s fault and besides it’s always hot in the summer.
    Plenty of blame to go around in the Gulf oil spill, but because it happened (1) in the United States (2) close to where millions of people live, and (3) not in Alaska or one of those places most Americans can’t find on a map, solutions to stop the spill were attempted almost as soon as the accident happened. If one solution didn’t work another was tried until they found something that did.
    There was a definite cause to the oil floating in the Gulf – that particular well had blown up. My guess is that we could be living in a world 20 degrees hotter than today’s and people would still say, “You can’t prove that people did this.” (Even in the middle of the oil spill people were saying, “Drill baby drill.”)
    Even though we could see the oil gushing into the Gulf, and that brown water and those unrecognizable birds, we never had to modify our lifestyles.
    The big fear with the science deniers is that they’ll be “forced” to give up the freedom to waste as much of the earth as they want. And ain’t nuthin’ more Amurrican than Freedom.
    Don’t look for a climate bill from the US Congress ever. Your pessimism is warranted.

  12. Eric B

    Our only hope for “leadership” in regards to climate change is in China and India. They are just beginning to exceed the industrial output and pollution of the United States. Most Americans are too in love with their cars and cheap plastic junk to change.

  13. Martin M

    Fusion (or unlimited energy) will NOT solve the problem, haven’t you noticed ?
    We’ll still have all the garbage made of all the mined and synthesized materials to contend with.
    The ONLY way to leave a glimmer of hope to our children and grandchildren is to generate energy using WASTE.
    My company is making $0.50/gal biogasoline and even cheaper biomethanol (M85) right now.
    We could have clean, cheap biofuels($0.50/gal. plus all the taxes, of course)in 5 years, but who will allow that to happen ? Let’s face it, we’ve already lost our freedom and we’ve been sold on top of that. Such is the price of addiction to what’s unnecessary in life.