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Jul. 23 2010 - 8:27 am | 552 views | 2 recommendations | 39 comments

Game over: Senate abandons climate bill

Astronaut Alan Shepard raises the United State...

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The Senate’s abandonment of climate legislation, confirmed last night, is not a victory of Republicans over Democrats, business over government, skeptics over believers. It’s a failure of capitalism, above all, and a failure of capitalism’s apprentice: democracy.

In facing global warming, human beings have faced the unprecedented necessity–and the unprecedented possibility–of changing our collective behavior through our collective will.

We didn’t attempt to do it through imperial fiat, totalitarian dictate, One World Order — we attempted to do it through the most powerful engine of change known to modern time, and only after taking a vote.

Capitalism has marched across the last two centuries undeterred by world wars, by massive economic collapses, by the rise and fall of rival ideologies sporting massive armies toting lethal arsenals, by unimagined technological innovation, by profound shifts in what we know, what we believe, and what we can do.

Through all of this it has continued to chug along, from steam engines to microprocessors, puff puff puffing from its chimney.

What other force can chill out an overheating planet? Not only does it have the power, it has the smokestacks.

The climate bill was not anti-capitalist: it would have created a new market. It was not anti-business: it had been endorsed by every major business that would be affected by it. It was not a tax: it was an opportunity to make a new kind of profit.

It was not undemocratic: and that may have been its undoing.

It was a small-d democratic attempt to steer the power of the markets to effect global change, not in the name of any utopian ideal, unless in this cynical age survival has become the utopian ideal.

It was capitalist, democratic, and necessary, and in America’s upper legislative body, that august chamber of powdery old rich men and women, it failed.

This failure, the one announced last night, is the failure that counts. Copenhagen failed to live up to the world’s hopes and expectations, but at the end of the meetings in Copenhagen more real possibility existed than had existed before. Real financial commitments had been made, real alliances had formed across ideologies, a real path had been charted, if only roughly.

All that was needed was for the United States to step up and make a measley 17 percent reduction in its carbon output, to show the world that it could harness the power that had created this problem in order to solve it.

This is the failure that counts: the failure of the United States, which has produced most of the world’s existing greenhouse gas pollution. The failure, in particular, of the United States Senate, so resistant to change it would sooner risk the climate than do anything risky.

This is the failure of individual senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who promised to support the bill three times and broke that promise at least that many times, in the end using BP’s oil spill disaster as an excuse to do nothing about the disaster of oil.

And this is the failure, in some way, of 99 others just like him.

The Democrats needed one Republican vote, but in the end, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they could not find one. Those fatcat Republicans make nice scapegoats, best roasted on a spit, but a political choice was made in 57 cold Democratic hearts as well, now relieved not to have to fight this uncertain battle in an election year.

This is not a partisan failure. It’s too big for that. A scalding future will not look back on 2010 and blame the 41 Republicans in the Senate.

Those terribly uncomfortable future humans wandering their dismal, apocalyptic scorched earth, alone but for the company of cockroaches and flies, as they gather around the few remaining mud holes, will blame our era, our system, our inability to control ourselves, our inability to act at will for the common and the future good.

They will scoff at our naivete, our preposterous notion that freedom equates to handing power to a tiny cabal of obscenely wealthy eogists who couldn’t be bothered to save the planet.

They’ll blame us. “Idiots!” they’ll say. And then they’ll die. And with cockroaches in stewardship, the earth will recover.


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  1. collapse expand

    It’s not over yet. The EPA announced last year they have the power to regulate carbon. What do you think is more anathema to Republicans? A tax on something we shouldn’t be using, or a government agency regulating it? I’m going with the latter. Something will be passed post-haste once the EPA threatens to start regulating.

    • collapse expand

      Maybe so, Jason. EPA regulations would undoubtedly be more pure, since they would not be sliced and diced by special interests, but they would be immediately halted by lawsuits and likely tied up for so many years that they would fail to accomplish anything by 2020. But you’re right that the Senate might budge in order to take advantage of opportunities to cater to special interests, opportunities that would otherwise be squandered by sensible regulations from the EPA.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    No, game isn’t over….they use the same back and forth tactic before the fascist health bill was rammed thru….this is a standard tactic of the criminals obama, pelosi, reid, to get you to let your guard down

  3. collapse expand

    Democrats Spine Crumbles… I offer that as an alternative headline to your piece…

  4. collapse expand

    Wow, what delusion. This cap and trade is NOT a market solution. For one, the market does not create the scarcity, the government does through limiting permits. Government completely controls the market price. There is no genuine scarcity. It’s no different than how taxation/printing causes monetary scarcity in the market today. This is just a really deceptive taxation. If there really is a need to achieve this CO2 reduction, why all the deception, why not a direct carbon tax?

    Why not tax everyone $1000, of which is what the cap and tax will do. And economics shows all it will really do is force all affected product prices to go higher and distort the market even more. Those businesses that emit the most will finally resort to outsourcing. So every % that is lowered in the US will be increased elsewhere in the world. I question if it will even lower CO2 output.

    “..it had been endorsed by every major business that would be affected by it” — Correction, it was endorsed by every business that would BENEFIT or could take advantage of it. Again business in government’s pockets. They’re all crunching the rules and numbers and looking how to make a fast buck in the deal. Business will of course be attacked again, even though it was all government’s action that caused the problem.

    Plus, with the $650 billion wiped out of the market, you’re talking 100,000s of jobs lost. For what, a possible theory that CO2 increase is bad. I could throw out 100s of scientific journals and analysis that can dispute the actual level of CO2 has on the effects it has to temperature. And even more on analysis of the Cost and Benefits of increased CO2.

    Yet we haven’t had true capitalism since the 1800’s, and with all the government taxes and complex crippling regulations, we have had made huge strides in environmental improvements. The real greenhouse gases have been reduced dramatically in the US. Sure, we can do more, but this cap and trade, is not the right path. And it needs to be done on an individual basis. “Collective will” just sounds too much like your will and not mine.

    The fastest path to a cheap alternative solution that can be used in mass is a strong economy. Every government step in to more control is only pushing out that alternative solution another few years.

    Here’s a more radical approach, cut military in half and shut down most of the social welfare programs at the federal level and redirect that money to energy and air filtering solutions.

  5. collapse expand

    Sirnate, thank you for this wide ranging comment. You say this is just taxation so why not a carbon tax? If cap and trade is just taxation then it is a carbon tax, so why not cap and trade? Obviously, if this stingy Senate won’t pass cap and trade with most of the affected businesses in favor of it, it would seem even less likely to pass either your proposed $1,000 per capita carbon tax or your proposed elimination of most social programs and half of the military (during two wars).

    You’re correct that other forms of air pollution (including SO2, NOx and mercury) have been reduced dramatically in the U.S. At the industrial level, that was accomplished through cap and trade.

    • collapse expand

      You got me curious and had to look that up. I have to say I did not realize they are using a cap-trade method for SO2 and NO2. Although it’s still an artificial market, it seemed to be the right solution at the right time. The key to it’s success appeared to be the many existing technologies that were already available from scrubbers to low sulfur coal. But I see that the low sulfur coal was becoming a cheaper solution. So, some of the reductions may have been technology and market efficiency improvements that may have happened anyways.
      The cost for the program is around $1-2 Billion. And since it directly affects health, I saw guesstimates around $4 Billion in health savings. And today the allowance “shares” are very cheap and have little effect to the output.

      So how does this translate to CO2? First the Acid Rain program is almost only for electric utilities. CO2 would cover nearly all industries. Technologies to measure and scrub SO2 had already existed. Co2 scrubbing and measuring seems to be somewhat immature yet or requires storage. But, CO2 is not a hazard to the average person and agriculture gains a lot of benefits from it. However, some of the CO2 scrubbing solutions seem quite promising.

      What I see is a much greater cost with low benefits at least in economic sense and perhaps too soon. Just can’t be convinced that CO2 is that critical, yet. Definitely not in the economic situation we’re in now. Worse case scenario/theory, I’d rather deal with warmer days, more changing weather, and more food; than living out of a box.

      As the great George Carlin once said, we don’t need to save the planet. The planet is going no where…we are.

      As for political failure on…well, everything…duh. Which means we need to have smarter solutions that do not require the government’s help.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Are you a professional shill or do you do this on your own dime? Just asking.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          A. When you have the facts argue the facts. B. When you have the argument, use it. Absent A. or B. use name-calling.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Hm. Apparently, your brand of bullying meets T/S standards of civility, whereas my frank response didn’t. Ahhhh, T/S.

            As if you didn’t know, the burden of proof rests not with with serious scientific consensus, but with those persons denying that consensus, no matter how numerous his or her “facts” may be (data and facts often not being the same thing, by the way). Why? Because that’s how the burden of proof works. Now, given a choice between believing a common conclusion and buying into what sounds like a standard corporate-funded denial of science, which does a thinking, evolved human choose? I know what YOU want me to choose, but which does a thinking, evolved human choose?

            Citations exist for any and all variety of crank beliefs, from global-warming denial, to hollow-Earth lore, UFO abduction (though why anyone would want to abduct a UFO….), healing through “cleansing,” the Bible as an anti-abortion document, and so on. In short, we can make a case for anything and everything. Whether or not that case has merit–well, that’s what matters.

            Right? Right.

            It’s my impression that the previous poster is shilling. What term would you have preferred I use? Carrying water? Promoting lies? I should hope he’s getting some kind of compensation for his time and trouble.

            Thanks for reading.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            So I apply existing economic theory as a concern to this bill as my view and I’m referred to as a shill?

            I didn’t know there was a consensus on economics.

            How about logic? When some businesses and individuals get to make money off this bill and most businesses and individuals have their money taken away, it’s called stealing.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    It is my un-professional scientific opinion that humans have very little to do with global warming. The earth heats and cools regularly, thats a known fact.

    I support environmental protection and utilizing hemp for many of our products that are currently made of petro or chemicals.

    But I do not support environmental protection by regulating business under the guise of global warming. I support environmental protection because it is the right thing to do.

    • collapse expand

      It is my un-professional scientific opinion that humans have very little to do with global warming.

      So the 30 gigatons of CO2 released by human industry annually does… what, exactly? Nothing?

      Really? It has no effect on climate at all? Despite the fact that CO2 is fairly absorbent on several IR bands, while O2, N2, and argon aren’t?

      Stop me if I’m going too fast for your “un-professional scientific” background.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        However, CO2’s effect is logarithmic and not linear. The concentration levels of CO2 today already are well past it’s effectiveness to temperature. Still effects temperature at small levels, but requires exponential increments to have the same effect as in the past.

        Also, our output of CO2 is nothing compared to CO2 in oceans. Any other means of temperature increases would be mute to human reduction of CO2.

        The key reason to manage CO2 is when it exceeds 1000 ppm where is starts to affect human development and health. Based on current growth rate, and DoE’s human’s output at 15%+ of total, that won’t happen till 2400.

        CO2 needs to be watched and ideas to modest reduction that are economically viable. But we’re far from ruining economies for this cause.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          However, CO2’s effect is logarithmic and not linear.

          Why do you think that?

          Given the presence of carbon sinks in the biome I would say you have it precisely backwards; the effect is nonlinear, where the first ton of carbon has a great deal less effect on climate than the 300 billionth ton, emitted after the Earth’s carbon sinks have been exceeded.

          Also, our output of CO2 is nothing compared to CO2 in oceans.

          Oceans aren’t atmospheres.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Clarification, I’m referring to greenhouse and IR absorbsion. CO2’s spectrum of absorbsion is logarithmic, meaning CO2 is already close to it’s saturation point. Over 90% of it’s effectiveness to temperature is already in effect. It will take exponential CO2 growth to make the equivalent temp change as it did in the past. Even pre-industrial age was towards the top of the curve.

            How sinks behave or oceans may react to increased CO2 are important, but it’s effect to temperature is nominal to the whole picture.

            If the bill and PR raised the issues of sability concerns on ecosystems and long term health if it exceeds 1000 ppm, I might be interested.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Wait, are you talking about Beer’s Law? We’re not even close to the level of concentration where IR absorption by CO2 would stop being linear. The Earth’s atmosphere is only .039% CO2.

            I’m sorry but you’re completely wrong. We’re not anywhere close to the limit of CO2’s effect on the Earth’s climate. Not even 1% of the way there.

            It will take exponential CO2 growth to make the equivalent temp change as it did in the past.

            No, exactly the opposite. It will, in fact, take less and less CO2 to force each .1 degree in warming as CO2 concentration rises, due to the saturation of carbon sinks and the increasing moisture of the atmosphere.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Do you have any good resources I could read on this? I sort of thought the same and have been looking for good scientific responses to beer’s law.

            Beer’s law is a good foundation of basic physics as it applies to atmosphere. But, of course, the atmosphere is much more complex. I just haven’t found good references that shows how it is inaccurate. The key thing that makes this valid to me is comparing it to other elements. The O3/Ozone is near 0.3 ppm in higher concentrations and is blocking 90%+ of UV-B. Low upper atmosphere pressure helps, but same applies to CO2. Each element has varying effectiveness, but measuring recent temperature changes against the CO2 atmosphere growth shows it plots along the top of beer’s logarithmic curve.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Why not start with the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Oh, and you know, I thought I was misremembering Beer’s law – it’s actually transmissivity that is logarithmic to concentration. Absorption is, and has always been, linear to concentration.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Ah you beat me to it. Yes, the effects of transference diminishes, but absorption is linear.

            After digging though the doc and understanding the concept of radiative force, I found myself digging even deeper. Seems that the RF does not account for most of H20 effects. Probably because of its complexity to model.


            But I came to a great site that was analyzing that logarithm.


            So far I’ve come to the conclusion that although it is not quite exponential as Beer’s Law, it still is logarithmic. Just not quite tight of a turn. Still quite a challenge to assess. IPCC docs are not good with references. And with a high margin of error and extrapolating that to temperature has still been difficult to address. Didn’t realize how high the margin of errors were on their estimates and calculations.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            It’s believed that water vapor can’t force warming because there’s really no way to keep “extra” water vapor in the atmosphere; an air mass will contain a concentration of water vapor determined by its temperature and simply precipitate the rest.

            Water vapor in the atmosphere tends to be homeostatic on a time frame of about a week. Excess CO2 can persist in the atmosphere for decades before natural sinks are able to pull it out.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    Let’s pray game is over. Fuhrer Hussein Obozo is trying to “overwhelm the system” so it will collapse from within! Reid in all his wisdom knew the Dems wouldn’t even pass this cap and tax business. So he called it off. I’ll be damned if Obozo will regulate my thermosat not when he has the W.House up to 80 in the winter!! Electric cars? that’s about thirty years from now…the green cars are unsafe at any speed, thin cheap doors and no real safety built in. No one wants crap like that! Sorry greenies you will have to wait for the next Socialist this one will be going buh bye!

    • collapse expand

      OMG! This is the most clever thing I have ever read! You totally burned him dude! That thing where you changed some letters in his name to call him a bozo was already classic and totally unheard of, adding in a Reich reference is just comedic gold! Seriously, do you write your own stuff? You should look into a career in writing commentary. Seriously!

      Oh wait, no. You said nothing of any import and about as close minded as everything I read from all the persons who have no interest in being a little less selfish toward those who have to live with how we leave the world for them. More “I don’t want to have to make any compromises in how I live my life just to be on the safe side that we’re not messing things up” commentary, always good for making me hate society just a little more. Thanks for reminding me what the enemy looks like. Cheers…

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    I only wish I had thought of how to scam the greenies out of milliions like Gore did, he must have had those two brain cells just aclickin’. We have one life and I prefer to live it in some comfort, like heat in winter and air in summer.

  9. collapse expand

    Better to murder a billion littler, browner people (we’ve done nearly that in our history, anyway) than irk a captain of industry. This is the United States, for chrissakes, not a friggin’ charity.

  10. collapse expand

    “It was not anti-business: it had been endorsed by every major business that would be affected by it.”

    Who sponsored all those ads against cap and trade?

  11. collapse expand

    Profit Created Problem, Now Wants to Solve It

    We can fight fire with fire but we cannot fight global warming by creating “a new market…an opportunity to make a new kind of profit.” If profit is “the money a business makes after accounting for all the expenses,” and if many types of planetary degradation are due to the externalizing (into/onto the environment) of the actual costs of doing business, and if human-caused global warming is due to not accounting properly, accurately, or at all, for the true costs of business activity on the planet, then we can see that incentivizing profit will only accelerate planetary degradation.

    Alas, there is no “new kind of profit” that will innovatively fix a new kind of problem. Profit by any name connotes blind growth: of market share, of competitive advantage, of profit itself, of the growth of profit. Think of a cancerous tumor. The cancer cares not that it will eventually kill off its host. That’s exactly how profit works in the global economy.

    Certainly a critical issue in the business/environment interaction is improper accounting. So force all businesses to internalize all environmental degradation costs onto their books, let ‘em loose to rake in all the money that those whistle-clean businesses possibly can, and watch those businesses like a hawk, ‘cuz you know, they’re gonna wanna maximize PROFIT.

    Cleaning up business accounting today will not clean up the mess (externalized business costs) that has already been made. We might think that cleaning up the planet would be the highest-growth business going right now, because God knows there has never been more mess to clean up.

    Alack, there is no profit in cleaning up the planet. If there was, there would be businesses doing it. It’s really just as simple as that.

    We’ll Be Really Good This Time, We Promise, Please, Pretty Please

    I can hear the makers (Wall Street, the City of London, etc.) of this “new market” for trading these new (might as well face it) derivatives pleading, We won’t manipulate this critically important market, this market that the entire planet depends on for its very survival, ‘cuz well gee, we’d only be killing the goose that’s laying the golden eggs. We know that now. We forgot about that in the past, in the push for short-term, uh, ur, profit. But we’re different now, we’re good now, we’re not doing evil now.

    Yeah, right, but they haven’t renounced profit. Should we trust them now?

    But it appears that Wall Street has renounced climate legislation. Otherwise, their lobbyists would have pushed it through the Senate. It’s really just as simple as that.

    My guess as to why Wall Street renounced climate legislation? Wall Street has figured out (quite recently) that it is no longer able to manipulate markets.

    Since We Own Earth, Can’t We Burn Her Up?

    Humanity does not “own” the Earth, hence humanity does not have the right, and in fact will not be able, to burn up the planet in a climax of climate change. Mother Earth is quite capable of defending Herself. All by Herself, if necessary. She does, I’m sure, appreciate the help that any caring, conscious, thoughtful humans can provide.

  12. collapse expand

    The democrats have had a veto- and filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for 2 years, and they still do, until 1/1/11. To blame their failure to pass cap-and-tax on the one missing Republican vote is absurd. This kind of idiotic journalism/punditry is why so many of us distrust the mainstream liberal media. As for democracy (lower case d); the EPA acts independently of Congress and even the president to restrict commerce, industry, agriculture and real estate on a regular basis. It is hardly democratic. Also, cap- and-tax will subordinate our constitutional republic to international organizations, like the UN, that are of ill repute, are openly antagonistic to the US, and are democratic in only the most superficial sense.

    Also, global warming is a crock, and the concept that some complex cockamamie Congressional controls will have a salutary effect on the climate is nothing more than a liberal’s wet dream.

    • collapse expand

      Thank you for your comment, Mandes Kates. This will come as a surprise to you, but you could be an even more clever scientist than you already are. What would happen if you actually read what you are critiquing? For example, you say, “To blame the failure to pass cap-and-tax on the one missing Republican vote is absurd. This kind of idiotic journalism/punditry is why so many of us…” But of course I don’t blame it on the one missing Republican vote. In the post, I say that 99 Senators are just as deserving of blame. And I say: “Those fatcat Republicans make nice scapegoats, best roasted on a spit, but a political choice was made in 57 cold Democratic hearts as well, now relieved not to have to fight this uncertain battle in an election year.” If you were to master the facts that are right in front of your eyes, more people might be more willing to accept your word on climate science over that of scientists.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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