When Senate Democrats blew up the filibuster Thursday, they didn’t just rewrite some rules. They struck a mortal blow to a tradition that has blockaded effective action on climate change.

If you tried to summarize the cycle of hope and disappointment on climate policy during President Obama’s tenure, you’d bump into the filibuster at every turn. During Obama’s first term, Senate Republicans elevated the once-rarely invoked supermajority threshold required to end debate under Senate rules into a de facto 60-vote requirement to pass any legislation. Instead of merely voting against bills they opposed, the GOP filibustered all of them. They also filibustered executive and judiciary appointees.

Actually, they didn’t really filibuster at all, in the literal sense of blocking votes by refusing to give up the floor; that would have involved exhausting bouts of telephone-book recital and more bladder endurance than you’d expect to find in the aging legislature. All they had to do was threaten a filibuster to stop bills and appointments cold. Often they did not even have much of an ideological objection to the bill or nominee — they just wanted to gum up the works, to prevent Obama from governing effectively, and to make him look bad.