Most people accept that politicians do stupid things in the service of parochial interests and paleolithic ideologies. It's a problem as old as Congress. Yet occasionally a Congressman does something beyond stupid--something that causes thinking people to wonder if this representative has the intelligence or integrity to serve in public office. These moments are like ice sheets splitting off the Arctic Shelf and sliding into the ocean--they're fun to watch and yet totally depressing.
Today's example comes from Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla), who has ordered a Congressional investigation into how the EPA "suppressed" a report that questioned the science behind climate change. Grist notes that the "suppressed" report was written by an economist with no training in climate science, includes no original research, cites old and irreputable references, and was nonetheless accepted, unsolicited, by the EPA's climate scientists for consideration. If the meagreness of the report's policy impact is a scandal, then so is the fact that Joe the Plumber isn't the go-to guy for rewiring your attic.
And yet Inhofe tells Fox News that this EPA economist, Alan Carlin, "came out with the truth" and that "they don't want the truth at the EPA." Inhofe really could be this stupid, or there could be a deeper, more cynical political logic at work. Fox concluded that "the controversy is similar to one under the Bush administration--only the administration was taking the opposite stance." Fox's message to its readers seems to be that the legitimate James Hansen scandal and the phony Alan Carlin "scandal" cancel each other out. It's all just politics.
If you believe that, how do you decipher the truth behind climate change? One way would be to start with what you already think you know and then look for those scientists--or economists posing as scientists--who support that position. Last week Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga) claimed that global warming was a "hoax"--a statement, impossible to back up with more than partisan intuition, that was met with applause on the House floor. It must have been quite a spectacle: A big chunk of legislators, smaller than in years past but still frozen in their beliefs, taking a jolly plunge into insanity.
The Waxman-Markey climate bill narrowly passed the House today. The vote was 219 to 212.
As we've noted, the bill's cap and trade approach is promising in many respects but might create a dangerous market in carbon derivatives (or not). Even before it was watered down and porked-up with gifts to biofuels industry, it never achieved the kind of emissions cuts that scientists and European governments say are needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Recent polls had shown that most people believe in the need to regulate emissions, yet the Obama administration framed the issue as a jobs bill, apparently believing the environmental message wouldn't stand up to attack. Environmental groups were deeply divided over the bill, and Greenpeace ultimately opposed it.
It now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to find more support from moderate Republicans than in the polarized House. Even so, I've been told by some environmental campaigners that the Senate isn't any more likely to strengthen the bill.
It's not a question one tosses off idly. There's no comparison between the U.S. and places like Afghanistan and Iraq, which have lost, as Max Weber put it, "the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force." Yet when it comes to America's ability to protect itself from the vicissitudes of a changing climate, many people are wondering if some kind of third-world putdown might be accurate.
"Why do we allow the U.S. to act like a failed state on climate change?" asks George Monbiot in the Guardian, lamenting the failure of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which passed in the House today, to achieve anywhere close to the emissions cuts that scientists and European countries say are needed to avert catastrophe. "A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages."
Over at the Thin Green Line blog, Cameron Scott expands on the idea, construing Weber a bit more broadly. "A failed state is one in which the government can no longer control destructive social forces," he writes. "The forces in question here are the powers of lobbyists to write mistruths into law." One of those mistruths being that we need not feel a sense or urgency about climate change.
Personally, I prefer the definition of a failed state offered by the experts at the Crisis States Research Center, who say, "A failed state is one that can no longer reproduce the conditions for its own existence." A climate that can sustain us is certainly one of those conditions. Even if the U.S. survives the loss of its coastal cities and the Sierra snowpack that feeds California, it probably won't endure the ensuing global resource wars, at least not in its current form.
You can quibble over whether the U.S. is a failed state or a failing state--it really depends on when you think the world has passed the global tipping point and how much we're to blame. Perhaps we're more accurately described as a rogue state. Like Iran, but more advanced. Instead of forcibly preventing the media from covering inconvenient truths, all our ruling elite needs is the death of a pop star. Voila! The debate on climate change disappears, replaced with obeisances to the God of Pop.
Nobody in the mainstream media seems to care that debate has begun in the House this afternoon on the single most important piece of environmental legislation ever. As of 1 p.m. Eastern, there's still no mention of the Waxman-Markey climate bill on the front page of the Times' website; the paper's Caucus blog deems it worthy of a mention but changes the subject halfway through to talk about immigration reform. Climate Progress rues the Reuters headline: "Michael Jackson overshaddows Farrah Fawcett on a sad day."
Meanwhile, Republicans are not being called out for spewing lies on the House floor about the bill's scientific mandate and price tag. Many of them are repeating the bogus claim that the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would add $.77 a gallon to the price of gasoline in the next decade. That number actually comes from the American Petroleum Institute, which decided to ignore the CBO's real analysis and produce its own. In reality, the CBO found that gas prices in 2019 would be about $.20 higher than they are today. More important, it found that the climate bill will cost the average American the equivalent of a postage stamp per day--and before you count the benefit of energy efficiency savings.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post released a poll showing that 75 percent of Americans believe that the government should "regulate the release of greenhouse gases" from cars and other sources. So presumably, many people would actually care to know that a climate bill is up for debate, and that Republicans are doing everything they can--truth and future generations be damned--to kill it. These guys are the true kings of Neverland. We're missing the one freak show that matters.
In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.
In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method.