Lester Brown came to our office today and had a nice chat with us Gristers. (Have you watched my diavlog with Brown? It’s must-see tv!) The guy is wicked smart. You really, really should buy his book Plan B 4.0 — it’s the best summation of humanity’s converging ecological problems and the best roadmap to solving them, all in one compact package.

One thing from our chat jumped out at me. In the context of a debate about the clean energy bill in Congress (he thinks it’s worse than nothing), Brown made the point that there’s actually a lot of good carbon policy in the pipeline, which will get us some big gains in the short-term. He cited the boost in fuel efficiency standards from the EPA and DOT; green stimulus spending flowing through DOE and states; EPA’s denial of recent coal mining and power plant permits; new federal enforcement of appliance efficiency standards; EPA’s new CO2 reporting requirements; and various state-level policies like renewable mandates.

These are indeed good policies! Notice anything they share in common? That’s right: they bypass the U.S. Congress.

This gets at one of the few reasons why members of that dysfunctional body might want to muster the will and the votes to change some of the more arbitrary procedural roadblocks preventing them from getting anything done. If they continue being exemplars of pompous, self-important paralysis-by-looking-busy, the country is just going to figure out more and more ways of doing policy around them. They’re going to become increasingly irrelevant. Surely they don’t want that!

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.