Downside: Massive Death and Destruction


Jim Snyder reports for the Hill on thinking about climate and energy legislation:

If healthcare poisons the well for climate change, some observers expect Democrats to settle for more modest environmental gains. Ditching the cap-and-trade piece to pass a so-called renewable electricity standard and stronger energy-use standards could give Democrats a partial win and President Barack Obama at least something to show off at the climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. But it would also threaten to fracture Democrats and their base of support, in much the same way the public option is threatening to split the party in the healthcare fight.

So I’m a huge sellout squish, but what’s missing from this balance of considerations—and indeed from the entire article—is the reality that American carbon emissions are causing catastrophic climate change and that each and every year that emission volumes fail to fall, more and more catastrophe becomes inevitable. Wildfires burn, land floods, islands are rendered uninhabitable, hurricanes destroy cities, countries are wracked by famine, etc. When you just bracket the devastating impact of unchecked climate emissions, then naturally capping carbon emissions doesn’t look like a very savvy legislative strategy.

But by the same token, a climate/energy bill that doesn’t reduce emissions doesn’t do anything to resolve the climate crisis. Political leaders in both parties need to ask themselves if they want to be written about in the history books like Neville Chamberlain and James Buchanan—men whose entire careers are wiped out by the basic reality that they failed to grapple with the major challenges of their times. If they don’t have a problem with that—if deep down, they don’t care about being failures as public officials and stewards of the national interest—then there’s not much to be done. If they do have a problem with that, then forces ranging from the EPA’s regulatory authority to changes to congressional procedure are going to have to be brought to bear to make the political system do something that the political system is clearly indisposed to do.