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This Is Not the Climate Bill You Need to Fear

Cross-posted from the Air America blog.

This Is Not the Climate Bill You Need to Fear
by Beau Friedlander

Whatever happened, it was bad. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road envisioned an apocalypse that didn’t kill civilization so much as render it insane. It was literary hyperbole for the sake of allegory. So is this.

Lawmakers in Washington: Please for just one moment pretend that the above scenario is possible, that you are characters in the prequel, and do the right thing on this climate bill that you’re about to vote on.

You’ve heard it all before. We are in the middle of one of the largest mass extinctions this planet has seen thus far, and still people have the audacity to hope for profit over salvation.

I wonder–perhaps with Cormac McCarthy, perhaps alone–if this audacity will cease to govern the choices we make as a society when bands of erstwhile parishioners and plumbers and bankers and bowling alley attendants and suitcase salepeople and itinerant bachelors wander the streets looking for anyone who isn’t “one of them” to bonk on the head and eat. I tend to doubt it these days.

The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill—a.k.a. the American Clean Energy and Security Act, ACES, H.R. 2454—will likely get voted up or down today unless it’s looking really bad and Pelosi decides to put it off for a while. It needs to garner 218 votes in the House of Representatives to pass. As it stands, there are a lot of scared politicians out there who are none too sure. Nancy Pelosi is doing a good job under trying circumstances. The whips are out in full force. David Axelrod has been clear.

President Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, delivering a stern warning on Thursday to members attending the Democratic whip meeting.

“If this goes down, it shows we can’t govern,” Axelrod­­­ said, according to one person in attendance.

No one wants to say it in the mainstream coverage, but truly, what is at stake here is an environmental Armageddon. If you haven’t seen the movies and the interactive maps, you should. The information is out there, and it is clear. Estimates of the number of people who will be displaced by natural disasters or rising sea levels vary from 50 million by 2010 to hundreds of millions or even one billion by 2050. The number of deaths caused by starvation due to changing weather patterns and the inability of the world’s farmers to keep up with demand is unknowable, but it is certainly in the hundreds of millions if not billions.

We are looking down the barrel of unfettered expansionism, and it is our own desire for more of everything that will pull the trigger if we can’t break this carbon-coughing obsession with an obsolete and dangerous way of life.

Now to climb down from the soapbox and look at this flimsy reed of a bill everyone is fretting over like a nervous laboratory chimpanzee trying to please an implacable lab attendant. Egad. Farmers this week said they needed special exemptions. There was talk of trapping cow farts and such—all of which is fine and good—but much more talk about how the Department of Agriculture (famously backward-thinking and reckless about environmental issues) would have to oversee carbon offsets for farmers. Really? By the same token, I would like oversight on Waxman-Markey.

Few who are “serious” about saving us from ourselves as regards the wholesale destruction of the planet have a high opinion of this bill. This bill is not worth a damn when it comes to the problems we face. Sure it’s great that some semblance of clean energy and “solution”-oriented thinking has hit the political mainstream. But again, are we really arguing about this? You want to make a difference, it’s going to hurt people.

Sure money is tight. A solution will make money all the more scarce for families barely making ends meet. Everyone needs to swallow hard, and grow up a little. It is what it is.

What do we get for the expenditure? Not so much with the present bill. Maybe not enough. But still: Waxman-Markey requires that 6 percent of electricity come from renewables by 2012, and 20 percent of electricity from renewables by 2020. There would be a 3 percent cut in carbon emission by 2012, a 17 percent cut by 2020, a 42 percent cut by 2030, and more than an 80 percent cut by 2050. 

All of this cutting will create a huge number of green enterprise jobs. Energy costs will actually decrease in the long run, but as mentioned already and mumbled over and over by Blue Dog Democrats who remain on the fence, there will be associated costs in the short-term.

Whether it is farm lobbies moaning about the cost of diesel and electricity—note they get a complete pass on the off-gassing catastrophe that is rising from their feedlots—or whether we’re talking about lawmakers nervous about passing the expense on to voting citizens, we’re concerned here mainly with a quagmire of self-interest and self-serving bias that truly endangers life on the planet.

George Lakoff rarely rises to the level of Luntz-like poetry, but here no poetry is required: Pay a lot now, or pay much more later.

The bleak landscapes of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book are not that far off in the future if we don’t get a handle on this problem. And while Waxman-Markey is weak medicine for a very sick planet, it’s a whole lot better than taking the poor orb behind the Milky Way and shooting it.

Pass the Waxman-Markey bill please, so we can get a foothold in the mountain of a problem rising up before us.

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