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Clean Energy Bill Survives: Political Realists Rejoice, Climate Science Realists Demand More

Now the next challenge: how to stop this bill from being weakened as it winds itself through the House and the Senate.

NOTE:  Unexpectedly, Rep. Bono Mack (R-CA) voted "yes" -- and the bill passed 33-25!  She later said, “"While I still have significant concerns about this bill, particularly with regard to its cost and its failure to recognize innovative technologies like advanced nuclear energy, I believe this is the right direction for our district, for our nation and for our future.”

UPDATE:  Al Gore's statement is at the end.  The New York Times labels Waxman-Markey " the most ambitious energy and global warming legislation ever debated in Congress."

Every journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step -- including stopping human-caused global warming at "safe levels," as close as possible to 2°C.  Many people have asked me how I can reconcile my climate science realism, which demands far stronger action than the Waxman-Markey bill requires, and my climate politics realism, which has led me to strongly advocate passage of this flawed bill.

The short answer is that Waxman-Markey is the only game in town.  If it fails, I see no chance whatsoever of stabilizing anywhere near 350 to 450 ppm since serious U.S. action would certainly be off the table for years, the effort to jumpstart the clean energy economy in this country would stall, the international negotiating process would fall apart, and any chance of a deal with China would be dead.  Warming of 5°C or more by century's end would be all but inevitable, with 850 to 1000+ ppm.  If Waxman-Markey becomes law, then I see a genuine 10% to 20% chance of averting catastrophe -- not high, but not zero.

Today was the first genuine step that the U.S. House of Representatives has ever taken on climate.  And since the Committee is stuffed with members representing traditional (i.e. polluting) energy industries, it shouldn't be harder for the full House to pass this bill than it was for the committee.  That said, the House GOP leadership is certainly much savvier than Joe Barton (see here) -- and agricultural and other interest groups have yet to flex their muscle.  Much work remains keep the bill as strong as possible even in the House.

For climate politics realists, it will be a staggering achievement if, in 12 months or so, an energy and climate bill that looks something like Waxman-Markey is signed into law by President Obama.  After all, the United States hasn't enacted a major economy-wide clean air bill since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.  And that bill had a cap-and-trade system where 97% of the permits were given to polluters.  And it focused on direct, short-term health threats to Americans.

The forces that are lined up against serious climate action today are incredible:

The Congressional GOP are almost unanimous in their opposition to any serious climate bill or any clean energy bill (see " Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies) -- and they are committed to demagoguing the cost issue even to the point of embarrassing the outside-of-the-beltway GOP ( Republicans (sic) for Environmental Protection "call out those Republicans who continue to spread the false claim that capping greenhouse gas pollution will -- supposedly -- cost American families $3,100 every year.")

The polluting industries spend vast sums of money on lobbyists, on deceptive ads, and on right wing think tanks who spread disinformation.  The status quo media under-reports and misreports the climate science and climate economics.  The climate science activists can't even agree on a message or whether they should even talk about climate science.  From a political perspective, Democrats are being asked to face an onslaught of deceptive campaign ads claiming they have raised energy taxes in order to pass a bill whose climate benefits will not be apparent for a very long time -- although the clean energy and jobs benefits will begin almost immediately ( Nobelist Krugman: Climate action "now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump" by giving "businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities").  And many of their constituents, primarily the conservatives and the conservative-leaning independents, don't even think human caused global warming is a problem that needs aggressive government action, assuming they think it is a problem at all (see here).