Everything is awful
Grist finally got around to having its holiday party last night. Consequently, I am rather hungover and haggard, which is unfortunate, since the moment I arrived at my computer this morning I was besieged by bad news. Here’s an annotated list of awful things that have happened this week:
1. Filibuster reform collapses.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came to an agreement [PDF] on the filibuster today. Joining hands in the spirit of bipartisan comity, they agreed to do nothing. It’s pathetic, worse even than I expected, and I generally expect the worst from the Senate. Even the most egregious filibuster abuse — filibustering the motion to proceed with a bill — will remain in place. Reid will still need McConnell’s permission to bring anything to the floor.
Why did Reid punk out? Because he supports the 60-vote supermajority threshold, as do many of his Democratic colleagues. In the thick air of the Senate they have bought the “world’s most deliberative body” mythology wholesale, losing track of the distinction between deliberative and dysfunctional. They view Senate tradition as a fragile treasure and the clubby, insular atmosphere as an advantage. When the hero of filibuster reform, Sen. Jeff Merkley, called out Democratic reform opponents by name, Reid scolded him. They don’t want to go on record as opposing reform. But they don’t want to lose their individual leverage either.
And so the Senate will remain the only legislative body among advanced democracies (or U.S. states) to give the minority absolute veto power over legislation. It is so frightened of democracy it won’t even allow itself to be ruled democratically. So nothing will pass, certainly nothing bold or effective, on climate or anything else. And those who speak most solemnly about Senate tradition will continue to render the institution a laughingstock.
2. The Washington Post humps for Keystone.
The Washington Post editorial board is concerned about climate change. They think it’s very bad that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans deny climate change. They think Obama should do more to address climate change in his second term.
And in an editorial today, they encourage Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The word “climate” appears nowhere within.
In this, as in all things, WaPo editors hew to D.C. conventional wisdom, which is that something should be done about climate change, like maybe a carbon-tax unicorn, but fossil fuel production should also be increased. Magical thinking.
3. The public is ignorant and fickle.
Yet another study has shown that public opinion on climate change — especially among Independents — drifts back and forth with changes in weather.
Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, Independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to.
One implication is that even when the public says it “believes” in climate change, it doesn’t understand climate change.
Another is that the recent enthusiasm of green groups for using extreme weather as a climate communication tool could very easily backfire if we enter a few years with unseasonably cool temperatures or low storm activity, which is entirely possible.
4. Arizona goes backward on solar.
Remember when I wrote, late last year, that a crucial showdown over clean-energy was taking place in Arizona? That Arizonans elect the members of the public utilities commission and that three far-right nutjobs were running against three clean-energy Democrats?
Well, all three of the nutjobs won. The Arizona Corporation Commission (the state’s PUC) is now entirely Republican. And sure enough, it just slashed incentives for home solar and eliminated incentives for commercial solar.
Oh well. Not like there’s any sun in Arizona.
5. Federal court screws the public (again).
Back in August, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court (two appointed by Republicans, one by a Democrat) struck down EPA’s cross-state pollution rule, which the agency estimated would have prevented 34,000 premature deaths a year. The Democrat-appointed judge dissented.
Today, a broader panel judges on the same court (four appointed by Republicans, three by Democrats) denied the administration’s appeal and refused to reconsider the decision.
Kinda makes you wish Dems generally and Obama specifically paid more attention to courts and didn’t leave so many judgeships unfilled.
Anyway, now more kids will suffer and die of preventable heart and lung ailments. Whee!
6. U.S. airlines profit from carbon scheme they helped squash.
If you recall, the European Union has been trying to bring air travel under the rubric of its emissions trading system (ETS). It plans to charge airlines (or rather, airline passengers) a small carbon fee for flying into or out of E.U. airports.
The U.S., along with China and Saudi Arabia, have gone apeshit over this and done everything possible to kill the system. In November of last year, the pressure from polluting countries was too much and the E.U. agreed to postpone the system for a year.
But wait! Turns out airlines have been collecting the fees that were intended to go into the E.U. ETS trust fund. In fact, U.S. airlines alone have collected between $41.8 million and $83.7 million in such fees, according to a new report from Transport & Environment. And now they’re pocketing that money, profiting from the delay (and perhaps death) of a climate-mitigation effort they helped sabotage. Super.
In short: Everything sucks today. Let’s hope for better tomorrow.
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