The U.S. House of Representatives passed the cap-and-trade climate and energy bill on Thursday, in a relatively close vote of 219-212. Passage seemed uncertain until well into the afternoon.
In its description, TIME's Swampland blog called it "sweeping." The Huffpost story calls it "historic." (Both stories have good information on the bill and the politics, plus prospects for passage in the Senate.) But for some environmentalists, the bill was a disappointment. Some enviro organizations were lobbying hard to strengthen it or vote against it. Some climate scientists agree that the mandated targets for reducing greenhouse gases are too low to forestall disastrous climate change.
But others see it as an important precedent, a foot in the door, and a structure for change, as well as materially contributing to lessening the Climate Crisis. I found myself instinctively assessing it pretty much as David Roberts does at Grist , though he does so with more information. He agrees that it is inadequate by itself, but writes that it contributes to a solution, and that there are other ways to address the crisis as well:
There is no reason to think that this bill is going to be Obama’s only legacy on energy. Already there’s been the stimulus bill, which will probably do more for clean energy in the next five years than Waxman-Markey, the new mileage standards, and the big climate impacts report. And there is plenty more to come.
• States and cities won’t stop. Waxman-Markey may set national standards at relatively weak levels, but plenty of states have tougher renewable electricity standards. A few are experimenting with feed-in tariffs (see here and here) and producing extraordinary results. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a mayor who wants to revitalize his or her city by establishing a reputation as green (see Grist’s list of 15 green mayors).
Read his other reasons, but to those I add these thoughts: of all we know of the future, the ongoing and accelerating reality of the Climate Crisis is probably the most certain element. It's the baseline. But what we're going to do about it, what we can do about it, will evolve in real time. And in the fullness of that time.
For instance: people are debating how much this legislation will cost an American family in, say, 2020. This is such a futile exercise that it begs to be laughed away. First of all, any purported cost--even if such a price could be reasonably estimated--may be dwarfed by costs associated with effects of the Climate Crisis itself---costs in energy, health, infrastructure etc.
Second, who the hell can forecast anything economic more than a decade in the future? How are those 1999 forecasts holding up? Costs relative to incomes going up or down, the impact of technologies, a thousand unknowns. While we naturally evaluate future spending in terms of current income, income is going to change. Projections say upward, but who knows? And these are averages, which mean they apply to pretty much nobody in particular.
Third, the meaning of any sum will depend on lots of other circumstances. A hundred or two hundred dollars may be the least of anyone's worries. Or it may by then be clearly the future bought cheap.
But just because I believe on balance that passing this bill was a good and important thing, I'm not buying into the inflated claims for it. "Historic" it certainly is. We've finally admitted the problem. We've selected a framework for one important way to address it. That's not nothing. But it's not enough.
Are we as a people really facing the likely realities of the Climate Crisis? We are not. But maybe with this bill we are beginning to. And we've got to start somewhere. But we know there will be many battles to come.
Update: Salon has a good piece by Joseph Romm of Climate Progress summarizing what the bill provides, what the controversy is about concerning greenhouse gases targets, and about "clean coal." Note these graphs: "The bill would transform the U.S. economy in four decades, replacing the vast majority of American's carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption with a clean energy economy built around energy efficiency and renewable energy.
ACES would push tremendous amounts of low-carbon energy into the electric sector. Obama's stimulus bill had already directed $90 billion toward clean energy, dramatically boosting projections of wind and solar and biomass energy penetration in the near term.
This bill requires a 20 percent CO2 cut by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, a 42 percent cut by 2030 and a whopping 83 percent cut by 2050. On top of that, the bill devotes significant resources to a major global effort to stop deforestation that would add yet more CO2 savings in 2020 equal to 10 percent of current U.S. emissions.
And this comment on the political realities: "It is worth noting that the original Clean Air Act -- first passed in 1963 -- also didn't do enough and was subsequently strengthened many times."
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