Why the failure of the US Senate to pass a climate bill is worse than the failure at Copenhagen
The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change was largely a failure, but this was not particularly surprising given the huge range of factors working against an fair, ambitious and binding deal.
However, the recent death of any chance of the US Senate passing (or even voting on) a much watered down climate bill anytime soon was a genuine and more significant failure. This is not only because the passage of a US bill would be the single greatest factor increasing the likelihood of a global deal, but mainly because the opportunity was so much more achievable. Think about the constellation of factors making it possible: a president who had included it as a major part of his campaign, Democrat majorities in both houses, an ever more convincing scientific body of evidence, a catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico highlighting the dangers of addiction to ever more difficult to obtain fossil fuels, a bill that had largely been crafted by a bipartisan team, a core strategy invented by conservatives (i.e. using trading schemes for managing environmental issues), in the middle of what has been so far the hottest year on record at the end of the hottest decade on record, after having repeatedly set the highest twelve month running average on record, with the greatest sea ice volume anomaly on record (plus a range of other climate related records) and a US population who want a price on carbon. Somehow, with all that going for them, they still managed to drop the ball.
If we want to stay below 450 ppm of CO2 (giving only a little better than a 50/50 chance of staying below 2ºC, and so only heavy damage), then each year of delay increases the price of achieving such a risky target by a staggering US$500,000,000,000. Yes, five hundred billion US dollars for each year of delay, because each year we wait, more infrastructure is built that will last for about forty or fifty years. Once another coal-fired power plant is built, it becomes a sunk cost, meaning that those costs are unrecoverable and will most likely continue to be used to the end of its life unless the price of carbon becomes astronomical.
So why did the bill fail? Brian Merchant argues there were seven things that killed the climate bill (in ascending order of importance):
7. Woeful media coverage.The bill in question was far from perfect, and I've voiced my concerns with aspects of cap and trade before, but in this case, something probably would have been better than nothing, especially since it would have introduced a mechanism that could have been ramped up as more people get it. As it is, it looks like China might have to take the lead.
6. Shortsighted action by the US Chamber of Commerce.
5. Archaic fillibuster rules in the Senate (a supermajority is not a constitutional requirement).
4. Barack Obama didn't get it and didn't get into it.
3. Fossil Fuel interests spreading misinformation.
2. Centrist and Coal State Democrats.
1. The Party of No: Republicans deciding that they would rather be opposed to anything from the other side than be willing to seek good solutions together.
Obama was never going to be the messiah, but when the history of his presidency is written in decades to come, I wonder whether his other achievements will be overshadowed by this episode.
So what should the church be doing? Same thing as always, but more so.