This is how a climate bill dies. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the bad news: “We don’t have the votes.” Without a single Republican backing the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the Senate's version of a comprehensive energy bill, there was no point taking it to the floor, he explained. For now, there was no way to move forward.
Reid’s announcement dealt a devastating blow to those hoping the United States would lead the way in aggressively curbing the greenhouse gases that scientists say are dangerously warming the planet. With time running out before 2012, when the current global climate treaty expires, negotiating a new agreement just got much harder.
So who’s to blame? Was it just a poorly crafted bill? Was there ever a chance Republicans would sign on to cap and trade? Did Barack Obama’s administration drop the ball? Or was it environmental groups themselves, who failed to persuade the public that now was the time to act?
FP asked five experts who have closely followed the debate for their verdict. Here’s what they told us:
This was never going to be an easy task. Dealing seriously with climate change means damaging the business model of the most profitable business the world has ever seen -- fossil fuel -- as well as disrupting the lives of every citizen to one degree or another.
Given that, we in the environmental community have made a mistake over the years in assuming that it would take an essentially "inside game" to win. That is, most of the big groups focused most of their efforts inside the Beltway, with expert lobbying of all kinds. The theory, I think, was that the simple fact that scientists explained we faced the worst problem ever, and that economists explained that we could deal with it, would be enough to win that action. But it wasn't.
We also needed -- and still need, more than ever -- an outside game, a big mass movement to get lots of people involved across the United States (and the world, since the dynamic is the same everywhere) in pushing for change. We took a first stab at it last year with our Global Day of Action and showed it wasn't impossible -- 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries on the same day, "the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history." But that was just a start -- we're glad that people from around the broader movement are joining in on 10-10-10 (Oct. 10) for a big Global Work Party. It's an attempt to send a message to our leaders: "We're getting to work; what about you?" And in the United States this year that message will be delivered in an indignant tone. The Senate acted shamefully, but not surprisingly. We need to change the power equation, and since we'll never match ExxonMobil for cash, we'd better do it with bodies and spirit.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and scholar in residence at Middlebury College. He is author most recently of The Bill McKibben Reader.