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:
- Swing state poll finds 60% “would be more likely to vote for their senator if he or she supported the bill” and Independents support the bill 2-to-1
- New CNN poll finds “nearly six in 10 independents” support cap-and-trade
- Voters in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and global warming
- Public Opinion Stunner: WashPost-ABC Poll Finds Strong Support for Global Warming Reductions Despite Relentless Big Oil and Anti-Science Attacks
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.