As the Climate Turns: It’s Just Incredible

by Bill Chameides | June 11th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 8 comments

On Thursday, the Senate considered a “resolution of disapproval” offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski that sought to block EPA’s ability to regulate CO2. After hours of debate, the resolution was rejected. (C-SPAN)

The ups and downs of the climate debate strain credulity.

Senate Does Not Approve of Disapproving

The Senate hasn’t done much about climate.

In keeping with the gridlock spirit that is so very much in vogue these days, 47 members of the august body voted on Thursday to make the Senate’s first significant climate act a non-act — a “resolution of disapproval” (S.J Res. 26) that sought to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2). Alas, it wasn’t to be: a whopping 53 senators voted down the disapproval by rejecting a vote on it. (See how your senator voted.)

Highlights from the Disapproving Side: Travel and Orwell

Six Democrats voted with their Republican colleagues to approve the disapproval.

Among them was “first comes my people” Jay Rockefeller (D–WV), whose opposition to EPA’s authority was apparently largely a matter of travel experience — in his floor speech he argued that while “most people have never been down a mine,” he, after 25 years in Congress, doesn’t “even know where EPA is located” and therefore he wanted to vote to disapprove. (You can watch all or part of yesterday’s proceedings in the video below.)

To be fair to the senator, things tend to happen at a glacial pace in Congress, and EPA just moved into its current headquarters a mere nine years ago.

It’s also possible that he voted the way he did out of pique for having never being invited for tea and cookies with the EPA administrator.

But if that’s the case, it doesn’t make sense to me because even if he had been, he obviously wouldn’t have known how to get there. And so hangs the fate of the global environment and the well-being of future generations.

John McCain (R-AZ), the senator formerly known as a maverick, voted to disapprove, finding the whole thing to be “Orwellian.”

In his floor speech yesterday, McCain scolded EPA for its “disregard for congressional intent” and claimed that “EPA is attempting to make the case that Congress intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.”

Actually, senator, it was the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA that ruled that that was Congress’s intention. (For more on this, see the tortoise section of this post.)

In what has got to get the award for “most bizarre,” the senator who resolutely tried to pass cap-and-trade climate legislation more than once back in the days of “W” yesterday characterized the Edison Electrical Institute’s support [pdf] for such a bill as being “to their shame.”

Highlights from the Side Disapproving of the Disapproving Side: Which Side Are You On?

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who voted to disapprove of the disapproval side, turned the shame game around by asking his colleagues: “Whose side are you on? The side of big oil? … Or … the side of your own children?”

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, sounded a similar call: “This is the moment: choose sides. It’s big oil and all that comes with it and all the polluters, or it’s protecting our families.”

Well, choose sides they did, and while I suspect the disapproving ones would argue about the characterization of their side, the sides in the end were pretty evenly split: as noted above 53 against disapproving, 47 for disapproving.

Should the near unthinkable come to pass this summer and a climate bill actually reach the Senate floor for a vote, we will really get to see which side the senators are on for real. But with only 53 voting against the disapproval, passage of a Senate climate bill does not look too good.

New Polls: Americans Step Back from Incredulity

In the meantime, following a period in which polling showed a drop in Americans’ acceptance of climate science (from a majority of 71 percent in 2008 down to 53 percent in 2009), a George Mason/Yale poll released this week suggests the majority’s on the rise: the number of Americans who believe climate change is now at 61 percent.

And as for Regulating CO2?

When asked if they supported regulating CO2 as a pollutant, 76 percent of the Americans polled indicated yes.

This 76 percent includes:

  • 91 percent of Democrats,
  • 64 percent of Republicans, and
  • 63 percent of Independents.

On Jobs, the Economy, an International Treaty

Not only that, but the survey also shows a majority of Americans want to tackle this problem much more than their legislators do even in the face of rising costs. Here’s a quick look at some of the poll’s results.

Percentage of Americans …

… who think the United States should make a large- or medium-scale effort to reduce global warming even if it incurs large or moderate economic costs: 69

… who support reducing greenhouse emissions here at home regardless of what other countries do: 65

… who support protecting the environment even if it reduces economic growth: 65

… who support signing an international treaty that would require the United States to cut CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050: 64

… who support using renewable
energy sources for at least 20 percent of our electricity even if doing so would cost the average U.S. household an extra $100 per year: 61

Some could argue that this is only one poll so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. But anyone going down that path would have to contend with another new poll [pdf] out this month, one from Stanford University that got similar results. You can read about its findings in this New York Times op-ed.

Some Will Say: ‘It’s Incredible, Unbelievable’

In theory these numbers should push some senators into the yes column for a climate bill vote, but in practice maybe not.

To be fair to any such immoveable senators, both polls were carried out by universities, so are perhaps not to be believed. Come to think of it, all climate scientists have been trained at universities so maybe they can’t be believed either. Oh my God! The Internet that is allowing you to read this blog? It was designed by people with university degrees. Ergo, the Net is not to be believed. You’re not really reading this. In fact, maybe there’s no such thing as climate. And if there’s no climate, why pass a climate bill? Kind of reminds me of the classic question: what is the sound of one hand clapping?

It’s not incredible; it’s metaphysical.

filed under: carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, economy, energy, faculty, global warming, policy, politics, pollution
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  1. Travis
    Jun 14, 2010

    Of course the good Dean is mocking those of us who reject his theory of AGW/CO2. But, given that there are a number of academics who challenge the “received wisdom” of statist AGW/CO2 theory, it seems a contradition to say that one should accept the GM/Yale poll simply because it was produced by a university. No one can doubt that the Dean would not say we should accept the opinion of Richard Lindzen simply because he is at a university. Travis

    • Bill Chameides
      Jun 21, 2010

      How could someone like Dick Lindzen survive at such an allegedly corrupt institution?

  2. DLowell
    Jun 14, 2010

    Passing a climate bill (flawed or not) will create new jobs in the technology sectors we need to compete in the 21st century. We need to establish a price on the significant externalities associated with carbon based energy sources….reference James Hansen (NASA) and Lonnie Thompson (OSU) for some of the best climate science. A climate bill with feed-in tariffs or taxation will help level the playing field and allowing emerging next gen. technologies like solar, wind, bio, etc. to compete. We are in the process of losing technology leadership in these fields to the EU and China. I guess we are good at buying things made in other countries….

    • MattN
      Jun 15, 2010

      “Passing a climate bill (flawed or not) will create new jobs in the technology sectors we need to compete in the 21st century. ” Go ask Spain how that’s working out for them. For every “green” job created, they’ve lost 2 jobs elsewhere….

      • Jim
        Jun 21, 2010

        I think part of that is that Spain invested more money then they could afford in grants and subsidies. In the U.S. if the government just quit subsidizing the oil and coal industries as they do then it would put them on more equal footing with solar and wind. Solar and wind get some subsidies, but not like fossil fuels. I think most government subisdies should end, including those in agriculture, the government’s subsidies in agriculture support more of the unhealthy options rather than the healthy options. Add to that a little cap & trade to help push the free market along towards more renewable energy and I think it would go a long ways towards mitigating CO2 emissions.

  3. MattN
    Jun 12, 2010

    If “you guys” have any hope what-so-ever of getting a climate bill passed, you better do it before November. I strongly suspect you will be losing seats in November. Which will take it from “very unklikely” to “snowball’s chance”. Jim, if you are suggesting that providing jobs and passing a climate bill are mutually exclusive, then I think you have your answer. Absolutely NO ONE is going to get re-elected on a “fewer jobs” platform. I don’t care how good it makes you feel. And the fact you still don’t seem to get that there’s a definite link between CO2 and economic integrity is stunning to me. Figure out how to remove CO2 without negative economic impact (and no fancy spread-sheet accounting either), and a whole lot more people will be on board. And don’t tell me we can’t. We went to the freakin’ moon….

    • Anonymous
      Jun 14, 2010

      No, I am not suggesting that they are mutually exclusive, that’s what you suggested.

  4. Jim
    Jun 11, 2010

    I used to really admire McCain back when he was considered a maverick some years ago. Now he’s just another GOP conservative. I’m really beggining to believe, as the weather goes so do the poll numbers, literally. If it’s hot out, people in the US believe in global warming, and if it’s colder, they don’t. It just goes to show that possibly the general US population does not understand the concept of “global” averages or “global” warming and think only about their backyards. In order to garner votes from their constituents, congressman think first of providing jobs, everything else is a distant second. It’s why climate bill passage is so difficult. On another political note, The tea party was calling for the repeal of the constitutional amendment (I forget the number) where senators were appointed by the states, rather than elected by popular vote. I find this intriguing as it could open up the possiblity that the senators would be less beholden to special interests or popular vote and perhaps could look at the bigger picture. In general I do not believe in the tea party ideals, but this made me think about the possibilities.

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