UPDATE: My Salon piece, “One brief shining moment for clean energy” is up. We do need to savor moments like these, since, as I note in that article, given modern conservative ideology, which is 100% anti-conservation, “the country can only contemplate serious environmental legislation when we have the unique constellation of a Democratic president and [large] Democratic majorities in both houses, an occurrence far rarer than a total eclipse of the sun.”
Every journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step “” including stopping human-caused global warming at “safe levels,” as close as possible to 2°C.
This bill would complete America’s transition to a clean energy economy, which was begun in the stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“). Within four decades, the vast majority of American’s carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption will be replaced by the technologies discussed here: “An introduction to the core climate solutions.”
This bill makes possible an international deal in Copenhagen this December — as well as a bilateral deal with China, hopefully sooner. Had the bill failed, the chance of humanity avoiding catastrophic climate change would be all but eliminated. As Nobelist Gore wrote earlier today, there was no “backup plan” to Waxman-Markey. In this post, I will revise and extend the post I wrote after the bill passed the Energy and Commerce Committee (see “House committee approves landmark (bipartisan!) clean energy and climate bill “” political realists rejoice, climate science realists demand more“).
For climate-politics realists, the vote today is a staggering achievement. Today was the first time the U.S. House of Representatives has ever voted on climate legislation. This country hasn’t enacted a major economy-wide clean air bill since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. And that bill had a cap-and-trade system where 97% of the permits were given to polluters. And it focused on direct, obvious, short-term health threats to Americans. And that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when the entire Republican establishment wasn’t dead set against any government led effort to reduce pollution.
Yet Waxman-Markey did get 8 Republican votes, which is 8 more than the stimulus bill got! This bill needed Republican votes, which will also be true in the Senate. The closeness of the House vote — with 44 Dems voting No — makes clear that the really hard work is yet to come.
And for those who say this doesn’t do enough — I agree 100%. But then the original Clean Air Act didn’t do enough. And the 1987 Montr©al protocol would not have stopped concentrations of ozone depleting substances from rising and thus would not have saved the ozone layer. But it began a process and established a framework that, like the CAA, could be strengthened over time as the science warranted. The painful reality of climate change is going to become increasingly obvious in the coming years, and strengthening is inevitable.
In the earlier post, I discussed the myriad forces lined up against serious climate action. I won’t repeat that here, but instead want to excerpt something that David Corn wrote for Mother Jones, which states the climate-politics realist position very well — a position you might not associate with Corn and MJ: