THE BLOG

As the Climate Turns

06/11/2010 01:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Crossposted with www.thegreengrok.com.

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.