Climate

The central question for 2010: Will anti-science ideologues be able to kill the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?

We’ve just left the hottest decade on record, just as we did 10 years ago when the 1990s ended, and we’ve entered what will doubtless also be the hottest decade on record, much as we will 10 years from now when the 2020s start.

This year, which will mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in April, may well determine whether every decade this century will become the hottest decade on record, taking us up to 10°F planetary warming by the 2o90s, accompanied by catastrophic sea level rise, widespread Dust Bowl-ification, ocean acidification, and the destruction of a livable climate (see review of latet science here) — or whether the nation and the world are wise enough to reverse our greenhouse gas emissions trend quickly and sharply.

After spending a week in Copenhagen, and talking to people from around the world, as well as leading administration officials and members of Congress, I think it is now clear that virtually every major emitting country in the world is prepared to take strong action (see My take on the Copenhagen Accord).  Indeed, in the months leading up to Copenhagen, the major emitters made public commitments that would bring us nearly 2/3 of the way to the emissions reductions needed by 202o to get on a path that would keep us at 4°F warming.  Brazil is already enacting its commitment into law.

But the fate of the international deal rests to a large extent on the fate of the U.S. climate and clean energy bill, which passed the House in June 2009 and is too-slowly winding its way through the Senate.  The bill continues to have broad bipartisan public support despite a massive disinformation campaign against it launched by the big polluters:

One of the unique features of the House climate and clean energy bill is just how bipartisan it was.  The final vote at the end of June 2009 had a whopping 8 Republicans (see here).  That may not seem like a lot but in fact it is remarkable.

Consider that the economic stimulus bill passed during the worst recession in 70 years — to address a problem that was transparently urgent and far more politically salient — garnered precisely zero Republicans.  Health care reform — one of the paramount issues of our time — garnered one House GOP vote.  Financial services reform — a seeming political winner — again got zero GOP votes.

In the Senate, the stimulus bill got 3 GOP votes, one of whom is now a Democrat, and the other two are from Maine.  Healthcare reform so far has zero GOP votes.  But Senate climate action was long pursued by one Republican (McCain), was coauthored in 2008 by another conservative Republican (former Sen. John Warner of Virginia), and the current climate bill is now being actively pursued by a bipartisan team led by one of the most conservative members of the GOP, Lindsey Graham.

Of course, outside of DC, action on global warming had been exceedingly bipartisan.  The governor who has done the most on climate action is, arguably, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.  Others leaders have included Republican governors like New York’s George Pataki, Florida’s Charlie Crist, and Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty.

If not for the Senate’s “dangerous dysfunction,” as Paul Krugman put it — the once rare, but now commonplace need for 60 votes to pass almost any piece of legislation — the Senate almost would probably have passed its own climate bill in 2009.  I still believe they will in 2010, with 4 or more Republican votes.  Indeed, one key lesson of Copenhagen is that Obama is so committed to climate action that he is willing to negotiate personally with leaders to get a deal done, which is precisely what it will take to move the several key fence-sitting senators of both parties.

Really only one political force could stop a climate bill in 2010, the same force that has impeded action for more than a decade — the hard-core antiscience crowd that dominates much of conservative politics these days and that demagogues against even the most modest efforts to promote clean energy and reduce pollution.  Indeed, they are pushing hard to punish any Republican who contemplates actually addressing the gravest threat to the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren.  For instance, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele withdrew his endorsement for Rep. Mark Kirk in the Illinois Senate race in large part because he was one of the eight House Republicans to vote for the House climate bill (see my blog post, “Honey, I shrunk the GOP, Part 3“).

Since Crist faces a right wing challenger in the Florida Senate primary, he has moved away from his strong support for climate action.  Pawlenty still dreams of being on the national ticket in 2012, so he too has abandoned his previous support for strong climate action (see “Pawlenty completes climate science flip flop, after flip flopping on support for bipartisan climate action“).

This emerging conservative litmus is in many respects unique to U.S. politics.  As I noted in a December 2009 blog post on the British reaction to the stolen emails (see British PM Gordon Brown attacks “anti-science, flat-earth climate sceptics” while UK Conservatives reaffirm climate science), the top environmental leader for the conservatives in Parliament understands both the science and the urgent need for action:

But tonight the shadow climate change secretary, Greg Clark, made clear the party line remains that climate change is a serious man-made threat. “Research into climate change has involved thousands of different scientists, pursuing many separate lines of independent inquiry over many years. The case for a global deal is still strong and in many aspects, such as the daily destruction of the Earth’s rainforests, desperately urgent,” he said.

Yes, there is nothing genuinely “conservative” about refusing to conserve resources, refusing to conserve a livable climate.

The fight we will see played out in 2010 and beyond is not Democrat versus Republican or progressive versus conservative, it is science versus anti-science.  I’m betting on science.

33 Responses to The central question for 2010: Will anti-science ideologues be able to kill the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Response (to the very good question Joe poses) Via Quotes

    There is a demand today for men who can make wrong appear right. (Terence [Publius Terentius Afer], c. 190-159 BC)

    Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action. (Goethe)

    A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all. (Tacitus)

    The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. (Einstein)

    We have sunk so low it has become the obligation of every decent, thinking individual to re-state the obvious! (George Orwell)

    The wise man does at once what the fool does finally. (Machiavelli; paraphrase)

    In my humble opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. (Gandhi)

    … and it has to be concluded that the greatest source of harm to man is man. (Cicero, On Duties II)

    It is obvious that the real wealth of life aboard our planet is a forwardly-operative, metabolic, and intellectual regenerating system. Quite clearly we have vast amounts of income wealth as Sun radiation and Moon gravity to implement our forward success. Wherefore living only on our energy savings by burning up the fossil fuels which took billions of years to impound from the Sun or living on our capital by burning up our Earth’s atoms is lethally ignorant and also utterly irresponsible to our coming generations and their forward days. Our children and their children and our future days. If we do not comprehend and realize our potential ability to support all life forever we are cosmicly bankrupt. (R. Buckminster Fuller: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth; 1969)

    Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. (Francis Bacon)

    In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged. (Tenzin Gyatso – The Dalai Lama)

  2. Charlie says:

    It is truly disappointing to see how the GOP has become so narrowly focused. They seem to have forgotten that parties work best when they are broad coalitions.

  3. colinc says:

    Joe, let me preface my “answer” to your query (article title) with a couple salient points. First, I have to admit that I don’t visit your site “everyday” (but nearly) so I seem to have missed your above cited article…
    “Voters in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and global warming”
    …but scanned it just a moment ago. I’ve lived most of my life about 30 mi WSW of Cleveland and can unequivocally state that the poll you cite is _very_ incorrect, at least with regard to Ohio. I don’t know, nor have I met, anyone in this state beside myself and my wife who even knows anything about climate change outside the crap spewed on Fox News. I can assure you that virtually no one in this rust-bucket would support _any_ legislation to reduce GHG production, at _any_ cost, nor do they give a rat’s ass about the environment or “the future.”
    Secondly, I think it most important to point out that the “anti-science ideologues” you mention in the title is a “misnomer” as it has been my observation that they neither know anything about “ideals” or possess _any_ “ideology” beyond “where’s my beer?”!
    Alas, it has also been my observation, having also lived part of my life in a half-dozen other states, that the previous statements not only apply to the majority here in Ohio but also to the majority of the population of the entire country. So, dejectedly, I have to surmise that there will be no legislation on climate or clean-energy or jobs this year or even through the next decade, regardless of the climatic black swans that _are_ on the horizon. :(

  4. colinc says:

    Those are outstanding answer(s), Mr. Huggins!

  5. I think Jeff, in #1, left out one particularly salient quote: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” — Schiller.

    On the other hand, what else is there to do but fight for the truth? The one way we can guarantee that the denialists win is by surrendering to them.

  6. William Maddox says:

    Ref: colinc above

    Ditto here as you might expect in North Florida/South Georgia. The dumbing down in this country is a sad and remarkable trend.

    Bill Maddox

  7. Wit's End says:

    I expect to see a proliferation of stories similar to the one about Venezuela, which is rationing power because water levels are too low for hydro-electrical generation. It says that although Chavez blames El Nino and global warming – critics blame the government for mismanaging infrastructure, a debate reminiscent of Katrina. This is also very similar to farmers in California blaming the government for their water woes rather than climate change and unsustainable usage of resources, and midwestern farmers complaining that their mold-contaminated corn is being rejected.

    You have to wonder what it will take for people to recognize the consequences of plundering our planet.

    Here’s a link to the Venezuela article http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/lt_venezuela_electricity and for anyone who can stand to hear what US farmers are saying about crop failure, government, and climate change, you can follow their comments here: http://blogs.agweb.com/Blogs/BlogHome.aspx?BID=68106c69-952c-4943-b38a-003559b0ae95

  8. Ben Lieberman says:

    It is not surprising that industries which profit from pollution want to keep polluting. What is bizarre is that for some denying human-caused global warming has become a matter of identity politics.

  9. 8. Ben Lieberman

    “What is bizarre is that for some denying human-caused global warming has become a matter of identity politics.”

    Chapeau for bringing up the “identity politics” aspect of the problem, a characterization that I think is exactly correct. But I would disagree about the “bizarre” aspect of it. Rather, I think this move is exactly what one ought to expect. Given that (arguably, at least) so much of contemporary neo-conservatism is tied up with identity politics, this is just the next and obvious step to take.

  10. mike roddy says:

    Where are all of the national Green organizations on this? Can’t they put aside their differences, and enlist their canvassers to see that Senators who oppose this critical climate legislation are defeated?

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    mike: And just whom do you want them to elect instead? Until we change campaign finance in the US, climate, healthcare, and just about every major issue you can name will be dominated by those with the most money to spend.

  12. Roger says:

    Great post, Joe! Great quotes, Jeff!

    And, being a native of OH, I was saddened by what I hope is an exaggeration of the ignorance and misinformation seen in the Midwest.

    Not to mention the always sobering comments from Wit’s End–whose skill in observing CC’s impact on Nature, so often missed by Man, is uncommon and outstanding!

  13. Leif says:

    Seattle, Washington about 20 degrees F warmer than Miami, Florida today.

    Think Global Climatic Disruption!

  14. pete says:

    “This year, which will mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in April”

    As one who was in enrolled at the University of California at the time and who remembers the original Earth Day, I feel it should be mentioned that the forecasts at the time were for a coming ice age. I hope you will forgive me for being reluctant to accept today’s prediction for a “10°F planetary warming by the 2o90s”.

    [JR: Seriously, dude, push your long-debunked disinformation elsewhere. The scientific consensus back then was not forecasting an ice age — quite the reverse. I just blogged again on that documented fact. You’ve been suckered by the professional deniers.]

  15. Roger says:

    Oh, by the way, Jeff left out some of my favorite Einstein quotes that I believe apply to our climate change situation, namely:

    “Politics is far more complicated than physics.”

    “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers simple.”

    “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    With these in mind, and after much thought on the way back from Copenhagen, I want to invite comments on some ideas for the American Climate Movement, after I have a chance to bat them around a bit more with some fellow concerned citizens.

    My main idea, simplified to the extreme is this: ‘WED1’ (on April 22nd).

    I’ve got to run, but will try to elaborate soon!

  16. B. Waterhouse says:

    re: #14

    Pete – I was attending UC Berkeley 40 years ago and learning about the Greenhouse Effect and peak oil. Guess we didn’t take the same classes.

  17. ddodd says:

    Joe,

    I’m sick of this “hottest decade on record” BS! You’re beginning to sound like Daffy Duck hugging the diamond screaming “It’s mine! It’s mine!” You make ridiculous rants at the “anti-science denialists,” so answer this in view of “science:” NASA data show that other planets in the solar system have been warming in unison with the Earth. How is this possible if humans are solely responsible for the “catastrophic” warming you claim the Earth is undergoing?

    [JR: Yes, I get it. You anti-science deniers are sick of “facts” and “evidence.” You might go to some place like WattsUpWithThat where you won’t be bothered with that sort of stuff.” The “other planets are warming” myth has been debunked here an elsewhere many times.]

  18. cbp says:

    @ddodd The answer to your ‘other plants are warming’ question, and more, can be found at http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    I’d like to see how long some of these “Its cold in my backyard” hicks would last down here. Its friggin 43C!

  19. Raleigh Latham says:

    Well, in Oregon we’re throwing a ton of effort behind a $700 million dollar environmental protection and corporate tax bill, and most people support it, but I won’t risk not spending a ton of time calling people and convincing people to vote for it. Democrats from Ohio, Virgina, West Virginia and everywhere it’s time to step up and let your Senator know that you will not accept willful destruction of our future.

  20. ddodd says:

    @ddodd The answer to your ‘other plants are warming’ question, and more, can be found at http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    “Mars is warming” Martian climate is primarily driven by dust and albedo and there is little empirical evidence that Mars is showing long term warming.

    Having spent a dozen years working with USGS Planetary Sciences division (with LOTS of PhDs in attendance!) we documented the warming effects Mars was experiencing via several thousand real-time images of the surface! Many of the pretty planet images (Mars, etc) you see posted on the JPL website were printed in the photolab by my very pink little fingers! I know about 40 Planetary Scientists who would very strongly disagree with the above website. They wrote many papers debunking the “empirical evidence” with real science!

  21. “But the fate of the international deal rests to a large extent on the fate of the U.S. climate and clean energy bill,…”

    As the fate of an international deal is directly linked to what get’s passed in the US-Senate, I’m wondering if folks from outside the US should get involved with efforts to make eg. the fence-sitters eventually vote “Yes”. Would this be more seen as helpful or as “interfering in domestic affairs” by those getting the emails, petitions, calls or whatever? As I’m subscribed to many US-centric newsletters and organisations, I’m getting many calls for actions but so far usually haven’t acted upon them. On the other hand, I can’t really accept that “some” US-politicians are holding the world more or less at ransom with their anti-science and idealogical stance to block this legislation or watering it down even more all the time.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    P.S.: I’m from Germany

  22. Peter Sinclair says:

    D. dodd,
    “they wrote many papers”

    Then you won’t have any problem citing one.

  23. Bob Wright says:

    McCain at least had some understanding of AGW and offered something during the campaign. It will be much easier to vote against Republicans wearing the “I pass the denier litmus test” brand. It might help keep independents and moderate Repubs in the Obama camp.

  24. Hi Joe,

    offtopic: TheOilDrum has special article on Jevons low (or paradox):
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6116

    clearly showing that increasing resource efficiency increases total use of energy – I remember that you once wrote that Jevons paradox is not based in reality, do you have some more debunk on that? Many thanks,

    Alex

    [JR: Jevons is on my list. Maybe this is the month. Here’s a fact, though. The total efficiency of U.S. coal plants has declined for decades, and yet we use more coal! For now, just search “rebound effect” on this blog or Google.]

  25. mike roddy says:

    Pete, and B. Waterhouse,

    Small world, or big school. I graduated from Cal in 1969, and confirm Waterhouse’s recollection. Maybe you are still weird enough to appreciate my buffalobeast.com article, which has led to a minor war.

    Grinzo, your point is a good one, but I don’t see campaign finance reform succeeding in a Congress already bought and paid for. I hate to do it, but in certain cases we have to throw up and then support the lesser of two evils.

  26. Alan says:

    Here’s one more quote to add to Jeff’s list (#1):

    “Many a misstep has been made by standing still” (fortune cookie)

  27. David Herron says:

    The politics in the U.S. has always struck me as two teams fighting because they’re on opposite teams, not because of true ideological differences. The current hard line fundamentalists claiming to be conservative are truly scary and not because of the above but because their aim appears to be transforming the U.S. into a theocracy. Anti-science approaches to climate may become one of our lesser concerns.

  28. Jeff Huggins says:

    Re Alexander and JR (Comment 24) — Yes, let’s please cover Jevons Paradox.

    All in all, as in any matter, more than one dynamic is involved. In my view, the central point in Jevons Paradox is valid and concerning, IN THE CONTEXT OF other aspects of how our “system” works and how we do things. Yet, context and the other factors are important. In other words, I think it’s usually correct, all else equal, that actual total usage increases as the efficiency of usage improves — all else equal, and given our consumptive habits. But, I also think it’s often true that total usage increases when efficiency decreases, of course. How can it be both ways? Well, Jevons Paradox is not the only factor at work. The larger factors are, of course, simply, our consumptive habits, the fact that we encourage them, and population growth too.

    I don’t think we should see Jevons Paradox as some sort of bizarre mystery. We should take it as a “don’t count on it” counter-argument (and usually a correct one) when debating people who would claim that our total usage of Resource X will go down simply because efficiency improves, forgetting that consumption often grows because of larger factors and that, in addition, efficiency improvements that lead to cost reductions often serve to fuel and enable that growth.

    Anyhow, Jevons Paradox would be a great topic to cover.

    Re Alan (Comment 26) — Great quote, Alan. Thanks!

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  29. Jeff Huggins says:

    Alexander (Comment 29),

    Thanks. That was a great article, and very helpful. Thanks for sharing it.

    I haven’t read the actual work — only the article just now. And, I agree, to a degree, with some of the considerations it points out. But, as far as I can tell from reading the article, the paper does seem to make some important mistakes, at first glance.

    Briefly, it is far too deterministic. Although the author points out (directly or by implication) problems in some work in economics, he then makes the same sort of mistake but in a different way: He seems to find a numerical correlation, and then bases everything on THAT correlation, extrapolating it to arrive at largely deterministic conclusions.

    Although I can’t tell directly from the article, he probably commits what philosophers would call a problem in jumping from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ or, instead, perhaps simply assumes that ‘is’ is unchangeable.

    And, he equates energy use with “wealth” in a sort of unalterable way. That’s a problem. Although my own work doesn’t focus on this, there’s probably little doubt that there is a large correlation between economic growth and energy use, WITHIN a given sort of economic system, rough assortment of technologies, and etc. But, that doesn’t mean that a different system, and/or using other energy technologies, and/or with a much different energy intensity, can’t have a very different numerical relationship between energy use and human activity. In the end, energy USE is not the same thing as genuine human “wealth”. Human “wealth” has much more to do with human time and how we use, spend, experience, and enjoy it, and how well we can pass the baton to future generations, ideally in a sustainable way. In other words, considering “wealth”, it is much more related to human LIFE and TIME than it is related to energy use.

    So, although I think the article makes some great points and raises some great concerns, and (as you know) these aren’t simple matters, it seems to me that the author (of the work) is probably making some logical and/or scientific errors somewhere in his thinking, in arriving at the conclusions he seems to convey.

    One thing is for sure, I think: The discipline of economics needs some fixin’, in most cases, although I’m sure there are some great economists who already “get it”, or at least I hope there are.

    Thanks for the link.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  30. evnow says:

    No, they won’t kill it. Wall St likes it too much – so something will pass. Whether it will actually do anything for the climate is a different question.

  31. Jeff,

    more or less, I agree. If Garrett is right we are lost, anyway :-)

    But one more point: if I do not see decreasing energy consumption and decreasing CO2 emissions without increasing the unemployment, I think nothing was solved the way most of us would like to…

    best,
    Alex

  32. Marcia Earth says:

    It’s worrying that science has become a matter of bipartisan debate. Very Orwellian.