Cooling on global warming
Is spring actually here? We are definitely getting tired of snow stories. It’s time for some sun. And then the drought stories!
At which point we will ask ourselves: What ever happened to worrying about global warming? You may remember what a big deal President Barack Obama made about climate change in his inaugural address. It definitely looked as if the ozone layer was making a comeback. Later, in the State of the Union speech, Obama came back to his battle cry again and urged Congress “to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”
Urging the House and Senate to follow the lead of the two most notorious shape-shifters in recent political history was perhaps not a favorable omen.
Nor was the fact that earlier this month, a deeply noncontroversial Senate resolution commemorating International Women’s Day had to be taken back and edited because someone objected to a paragraph —which had been in an almost identical version passed in the last Congress — stating that women in developing countries “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”
You may be wondering who the objecting senator was. Normally, these things are supposed to be kind of confidential, but in this case the lawmaker in question is proud to let you know that he is — yes! —Ted Cruz of Texas.
“A provision expressing the Senate’s views on such a controversial topic as ‘climate change’ has no place in a supposedly noncontroversial resolution requiring consent of all 100 U.S. senators,” a Cruz spokesman said.
Do you think everything in the world is now about Sen. Ted Cruz? Sure seems like it. Although I would discount the rumors that he is responsible for the helium shortage or the sinkhole epidemic.
There was a time, children, when the Republican Party was a hotbed of environmental worrywarts. The last big clean air act of the Bush I administration passed the House 401-21. But no more, no more. You’re not going to get any sympathy for controlling climate change from a group that doesn’t believe the climate is actually changing.
As former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay used to say, “Only nature can change the climate — a volcano, for instance.”
It’s sort of ironic. These are the same folks who constantly seed their anti-deficit speeches with references to our poor, betrayed descendants. (“This is a burden our children and grandchildren will have to bear.”) Don’t you think the children and grandchildren would appreciate being allowed to hang onto the Arctic ice cap?
In his cheerleading State of the Union speech, the president did mention that if Congress, by any wild chance, failed to take action, the administration would do some things on its own. The Obama White House accomplished quite a bit without legislative help during the first term, imposing some big new regulations on automobile fuel efficiency, encouraging the production of biofuels and creating new standards on home appliances.
It’s a pretty impressive record, given the fact that the mere implementation of a Bush-era regulation on light bulb efficiency was enough to spark the Michele Bachmann Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, and Sen. Rand Paul’s historic dual-purpose rant claiming that the administration favored “a woman’s right to an abortion, but you don’t favor a woman’s or a man’s right to choose what kind of light bulb.”
The light bulb standards survived. The world continues to turn.
But a carbon tax/fee is the key to controlling climate change. That or just letting the next generation worry about whether the Jersey Shore is going to wind up in Trenton. Currently, majority sentiment in Congress is to hope for the best and pass the baton to the grandchildren. (When it comes to rising-sea-level denial, the champion may be North Carolina, where the Legislature has voted to base state coastal management policy on historic trends rather than anything the current experts have to say.
“This means that even though North Carolina scientists predict 39 inches of sea-level rise within the century, North Carolina, by its own law, is only allowed to prepare for 8. King Canute would be so proud,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island in a recent speech.)
Congressional stalwarts are working on new carbon-tax legislation, but don’t hold your breath. This month, during a free-for-all of amendments in the Senate budget debate, Whitehouse actually did propose a nonbinding resolution establishing “a fee on carbon pollution.” The amendment failed, 41-58.
“We were pretty stoked at how well it did. It was 42 counting Frank Lautenberg, who wasn’t there,” Whitehouse said in a phone interview.
That’s the ticket. When all else fails, we’re going for major league optimism. The grandchildren will at least appreciate the perseverance.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.