Environment

Starting Over

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJan 21, 2011 12:27 PM

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Joshua Green at The Atlantic does a recap of just how far and fast U.S. climate hopes have fallen in the last two years. Weirdly, reading it reminded me of a recent football game I still can't shake. (Do fans take this stuff harder than the players?) To appreciate the analogy, you have to understand this: on December 20, with only three games left in the season, the NY Giants were 21 points ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles with seven minutes left to play. They had dominated the game. Losing was incomprehensible. The Giants were positioned to win their division and glide into the playoffs. Now let's go to the other meltdown that Green nicely summarizes:

Not long ago, it appeared likely that the United States would take meaningful action to mitigate climate change. In the 2008 presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain touted plans to limit carbon emissions under a cap-and-trade scheme. Even Sarah Palin supported the idea. Much of the business community did, too. Adding momentum was the recent Supreme Court ruling, in Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency, that required the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Lawmakers, it was presumed, would take the matter into their own hands rather than cede that authority. Of course, this didn't happen. Over the strenuous objections of Republicans and coal-state Democrats, the House of Representatives passed a cap-and trade bill in 2009 that met an ignominious death in the Senate. Along the way, cap-and-trade -- originally a conservative idea -- came to be vilified as "cap and tax'' and regarded by a substantial part of the conservative base as a form of fascist oppression. Today, fewer Americans believe in the reality of global warming than did so two years ago, and many took out their wrath last November on Democrats who'd supported a climate bill.

Oddly, Green doesn't mention the impact of "climategate," which I've come around to believing played an important role in propelling the downward slide he outlines. Regardless, the stunning reversal in fortune on the climate front has indeed been swift and no doubt just as devastating for climate advocates to watch unfold. Two years ago, I bet many of them were feeling pretty good about the prospects for climate action, just as last month I believed the Giants in the third quarter of the Philly game were assured of victory and destined for the Super Bowl. (They lost the game in the final seconds--in a humiliating coda--and didn't make the playoffs. Sheer agony.) At the moment, for Giants fans and climate advocates, it's hard not to be bitter. But you know the old refrain: there's always next year.

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