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Climate bill pessimism

To say another word on Chuck Schumer's prediction that the Senate is going to do an energy bill rather than a climate bill, we're really in a do-or-die period for climate legislation. The House passed Waxman-Markey last year. That passage, however, is only good until the end of this Congress. That is to say, it's only good until January 2011. After that, a climate bill would not only have to pass the Senate, but it would also have to pass the House again. And it's hard to believe that the House will have the votes to pass a climate bill after November.

At that point, what are the conditions in which a climate bill seems possible? The normal answer would be a national catastrophe that focuses attention on the issue. An "exogenous event," as the social scientists say. Something like, I don't know, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. But actually, it seems like that wouldn't be nearly enough. And it would be ever further from enough after the legislative math gets harder. So either the Senate manages to move on a climate bill this year or you can pretty much give up on any hope of seriously addressing global warming in the foreseeable future.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 7, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Nothing will change until all the lights go out everywhere all at once, and by then it will be too late. We are fubar.

Posted by: randrewm | June 7, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I agree with randrewm

If the great recession and this gulf gusher can't shake us from our right-wing induced stupor, nothing will.

We are headed for a hard reset.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 7, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

This kind of fascist witch hunt by the Virginia AG against scientist Michael Mann is another reason I am no longer a Republican.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 7, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"... or you can pretty much give up on any hope of seriously addressing global warming in the foreseeable future."

Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how hot it gets.

Posted by: ostap666 | June 7, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

"So either the Senate manages to move on a climate bill this year or you can pretty much give up on any hope of seriously addressing global warming in the foreseeable future."

Otherwise also there is no hope to address Global Warming because I am not sure Kerry bill is strong enough or good one.

The only hope here is Science behind Global Warming says that there is no danger effectively. WSJ had an article talking about 'ice cores' from Antarctica which will decisively tell whether Global Warming is man made or natural.(Link -

Otherwise it is by by.

The phenomenon with Palin and Tea Party is anytime a factual event occurs which contradicts your view point; you double down on that to ensure that you do not change the direction. That is the thing with 'oil dependence'. With BP Oil Spill, Tea Party and our Political Class is ensuring that there is no change in our oil consumption. These 'oil supporters' are so vigilant and paranoid to allow anything to cut there.

And our President - oh he is in 'care taking presidency mode' after whatever he has, he has spent on HCR. There is nothing to be expected from this President apart from diligent 'mopping' of BP spill for years. He is such a pious leader now that he wants all the hard work left for other Americans.

Well, that is life; we move on.

Posted by: umesh409 | June 7, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Did any thinking person actually believe there was any hope of seriously addressing global climate change in the foreseeable future?

Frankly, the time to seriously address global change has already passed, the foreseeable future is probably already too late.

Posted by: tsgauh | June 7, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Call me crazy, but doesn't this suggest that the approach of believers in catastrophic climate change is fundamentally flawed? Instead of doing the legislative equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest by passing climate legislation which, even under the best of circumstances, would only lower global temperatures by less than one degree Celsius, shouldn't they instead be focusing on mitigating the negative effects of rising oceans and volatile weather?

Said more succinctly: rather than pinning our hopes on a futile attempt to lower global temperatures, why don't we just move people out of low-lying areas?

Like them or not, Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Lieberman are both enormously consequential pieces of legislation whose passage would rival (and arguably far surpass) health care reform in terms of impact. Despite the fact that they are far weaker than enviros would like, they would both fundamentally reorganize our economy and change the energy landscape dramatically. Passing legislation on that scale is excruciatingly difficult, as recent months have shown.

And, like it or not, both bills (or some hybrid thereof) would bring some form of economic pain. We can argue about how much or who would bear most of it, but there is no getting around the fact that there are costs associated with it. And for what? Less than one degree of difference by mid-century, assuming that India and China don't immediately offset America's reduced emissions.

That seems to be its fundamental flaw: it's a bill that seeks to solve a global problem by inflicting national pain. Unless you plan to argue that you believe other countries, developed and developing, would immediately follow suit with similar legislation, it seems futile.

Let's just admit the truth: because we cannot control what other countries do, we cannot reduce global temperatures.

Why not pass a simple carbon tax (offset by a reduction in taxes elsewhere) to begin funding the job of moving people from affected coastal areas? No additional tax burdens, no reliance on rosy best-case scenarios to reduce global temperatures.

Posted by: MDA123 | June 7, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

MDA123: Because a carbon tax would be just as difficult to pass as cap and trade, if not harder because it has the word "tax" right there in the name.

Posted by: usergoogol | June 7, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

A few years ago Jarred Diamond posed the question of what the Easter Islanders of the time must have thought as they cut down the last palm tree, never to see a palm tree again.

Sadly, I think Ezra is posing that question now, of us, right here on the whole of planet earth.

The answer seems to be "ahh, whatever" or worse, "it's to haaaard!" Utterly devastating morally, and may just be the moment of our cultural suicide.

Posted by: RalfW | June 7, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

usergoogol: I disagree, because my off-handed suggestion was that the carbon tax be fully offset by tax reductions elsewhere. Some have speculated about trading a carbon tax for a reduction/elimination of the payroll tax, for example.

If you're not raising taxes overall, and instead just shifting the tax burden from a "good" (productive labor) to a "bad" (carbon dioxide emissions), I think that's something you can sell to the American public. But you'll never pass a carbon tax unless you cut taxes elsewhere.

Posted by: MDA123 | June 7, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

MDA123, I don't agree with your post, but frankly, I'm too worn out to get into it right now. What I will say is that you use the phrase, "to put is succinctly" in the second paragraph of a huge post. Not that this is a criticism. It's just funny, and totally something I would do.

Posted by: MosBen | June 7, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The easter island analogy is perfect.

There's also the one about boiling a frog slowly.

As I posted earlier, we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction, and we are too stupid to see it and do anything about it.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 7, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

To add to the general gloom and doom, I think that decent legislation would have a shot at passage right now, if the President had only seized the day and used the Deepwater Horizon disaster as the shock that would open an opportunity for him to assert leadership and fight for substantive policy change to begin to take us away from everything that is wrong about our reliance on burning fossil fuels.

Sadly, I think that umesh409 is on to something, in that Obama is trying to avoid ny chance of battle scars between now and November.

A bill that requires public sacrifice in exchange for the vision of a better tomorrow needs a President leading the way, and Obama is missing in action.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 7, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Maybe when the rising seas engulf Florida and Phoenix becomes too hot to live in, people will wake up. Or not.

I have long thought that people don't do more about climate change because they believe that if things were really serious, the gov't would be saying so and compelling more behavior changes. Failing that, they just go along doing the same things. So the failure to act is both wrong on substance and wrong in setting the proper tone for the kinds of changes we need to be making.

Not to cut oil subsidies and shift them to renewables in the face of the BP disaster is unconscionable. We truly have a Congress of pygmies.

Posted by: Mimikatz | June 7, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Those of you who are worried about rising sea levels and soaring temperatures must be really young and really short and really temperature sensitive.

The sea level is increasing at about three millimeters per year, so you might see five inches increase in fifty years; be sure to take your water wings with you so you don't drown.

The temperature is increasing at about 0.2 C per decade. So in the same fifty years you might see a one degree average temperature increase. Maybe it will stay warm enough in Florida so that the oranges and iguanas don't freeze any more.

Believing the predictions of doom and gloom might make you age a lot faster, so maybe you kids will be too old to swim or have skin that is too sensitive to the heat to be out at the beach in fifty years.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | June 8, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse


The moose population here in Minnesota is crashing right now, likely not to return for thousands of years, if ever. Largely because of rises in summer nighttime temps. Forest succession is happening so fast that the Canadian shield soils up north will almost certainly not be able to sustain a forestry industry within my lifetime, because trees can't walk north that fast. The birch are dying, also not to be enjoyed by Minnesotans for 7 x 7 generations. It's criminal what is being lost even now.

What skeptics like you cling to are averages. But regional climates are changing in ways averages hide. The global temp *may* me rising 0.2 C per decade, but that includes oceans, equatorial and polar regions, etc.

Mid-latitude areas, particularly humid continental areas away from oceans are already experiencing much faster warming, particularly at night. This is already, as I mentioned above, having significant impacts on the ability of bioregions to sustain established flora and fauna.

They are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Plants and animals specifically adapted to live here can't any more. That's natures way of telling us we're f*2king up and soon won't get any more chances to fix this thing.

Posted by: RalfW | June 8, 2010 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Hallelujah. Thank you God for giving me the strength to be defeating these genocidalist morons, who think that AGW is anything but a scam to notionally keep this corrupt Wall Street and London and Vatican gang rape of the Human Race in business a few more years. Anyone who still believes in this global warming nonsense is a ignorant fool. There is no temperature anomaly, there is no melting ice, there is no sea level rise, there is no ozone hole that wasn't always there. Maurice Strong's UNEP is designed to kill anyone who hasn't proven his genetic superiority by having gotten into an Ivy League college.

Posted by: stanlippmann | June 8, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

World-wide emissions are predicted to increase over 50% in the next two decades, so what if the US doesn't cut emission a little bit?

Here is what Climate Code Red says:

--Human emissions have so far produced a global average temperature increase of 0.8 degree C.

--There is another 0.6 degree C. to come due to "thermal inertia", or lags in the system, taking the total long-term global warming induced by human emissions so far to 1.4 degree C.

--If human total emissions continue as they are to 2030 (and don't increase 60% as projected) this would likely add more than 0.4 degrees C. to the system in the next two decades, taking the long-term effect by 2030 to at least 1.7 degrees C. (A 0.3 degree C. increase is predicted for the period 2004-2014 alone by Smith, Cusack et al, 2007).

--Then add the 0.3 degree C. albedo flip effect from the now imminent loss of the Arctic sea ice, and the rise in the system by 2030 is at least 2 degree. C, assuming very optimistically that emissions don't increase at all above their present annual rate! When we consider the potential permafrost releases and the effect of carbon sinks losing capacity, we are on the road to a hellish future, not for what we will do, but WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE.

"The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." --Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

Posted by: dobermantmacleod | June 8, 2010 2:37 AM | Report abuse

A climate bill- at this time may be the tiny last chance to even begin to hold off some of the near future deleterious effects of climate change.

Co2 is entering the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate in geologic history- we now stand at 392ppm Co2- the most in 15-20 million years. In the far distant past levels where higher, but the radiation from the sun was far lower.

Any climate bill signed now will probably be useless anyway- at best an acknowledgment that the problem exists.

Climate models see about a one half degree rise globally this decade- after a 1.3 degree rise from 1970-2009.

When bizarro weather events begin to affect commerce, and the economy- only then will 'someone' begin to take notice- by then it will be FAR too late for the more severe consequences of climate change taking place 2015-2020. Not far down the road. Good luck!

Posted by: vercingetorex | June 8, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

There is a strong correlation between "dominion" Creationist beliefs and lack of respect for nature & the scientific method.

This mindset exists to varying degrees, in addition to a "free market" agenda that resists regulation of extractive, polluting industries and the transportation sector. Very often, market fundamentalists and religious fundamentalists are the same people. They exist in a realm apart from the natural world where money is seen as a resource unto itself, not limited by physical constraints. The corrupt "science" of the derivatives market is a good example of their influence.

People who think nature was fabricated to serve Man, and Jesus will render nature moot at The Rapture (so why protect anything?) need to be separated from critical policy decisions. The existing First Amendment was supposed to assure this but it's been rendered nearly useless.

I propose a Constitutional amendment to enact a distinct litmus test for religious fundamentalism (Creationism), applying to all who seek Federal offices, especially the President. Candidates would be barred from even running if they engaged in clear religious policy-making or written beliefs in Noah's Ark, Thetans, etc.

The amendment could be worded thusly: "For the sake of a peaceful and sustainable society, no person running for an office of the United States government shall demonstrate a religious belief system that contradicts the contemporary body of scientific evidence."

Ideally, States would adopt the same guidelines. It could be hard to enforce, but it would get people thinking about how and why they make crucial decisions that affect millions of others.

Even without such an amendment, allowing Creationists like James Inhofe to oversee committees on environmental policy should be an illegal conflict of interest today. The old fox in charge of the chicken coop is a good analogy.

I am tired of politicians bragging about their churches and faith in speeches, even if they aren't overt fundamentalists. The whole concept of faith goes against critical thinking, which is badly needed vs. feel-good versions of reality that keep us stumbling blindly into the future.

Posted by: Jim916 | June 12, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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