Monday, June 29, 2009

Waxman-Markey Passes the House of Representatives, 219-212 (sigh... )

So, here it is, this big disappointment for many, the great global warming bill passes the House by this 7 vote margin (which means it needed the 8 Republicans who voted for it to pass), a bill criticized by many here for many reasons (Peter Dorman especially), and by all reports loaded down with even more giveaways, loopholes, breaks for farmers and corporations, with a tariff trigger mechanism for 2020 that Obama does not like, but given how far out it is may not matter anyway, and the darned thing is so long (1300 pages?) that it will be a long time before we figure out what is in it really, although at least we know that it involves some sort of cap and trade mechanism, maybe, although with something like 85% of the permits given away rather than auctioned off, and emissions limits to go down so slowly that they will be considered a joke by the rest of the world in Copenhagen in December. What is a body to do or think of this?

Well, actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it is a genuine achievement, at least potentially. That the vote was so close is a reminder of how much opposition to doing anything about global warming there is in the Congress, and when it gets down to it, the public at large, despite all the polls showing people for doing something in the abstract. After all, 44 House Democrats voted against this. While there are Republicans who are lunatics and goofballs following wacko theories and listening to Rush Limbaugh, I suspect the solid majority of those 44 Dems believe that global warming is happening. But they do not see it as any near term threat to their districts, while they see serious potential costs to businesses and employment in their districts, something they are not keen on during a recession at all. After all, for much of the country, global warming is actually economically beneficial in the near term (lower winter heating bills). And in 1995, the Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel amendment, which said the US should sign no agreement that did not have China and India agreeing to emissions controls, which pretty much put the kibbosh on the US ever ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

So, keep in mind, folks, cap and trade has been working pretty well for SO2. If warming clearly continues, there is now a mechanism in place that can be used to tighten up and enforce CO2 emissions reductions, if there is sufficient political will (if things cool down, as some predict, well, the whole thing will just be off anyway). So, now we have to get it through the Senate, even if most of the rest of the world thinks it is a pathetic joke. It will still be better than doing the big fat nothing that has been done so far.


Robert D Feinman said...

The SO2 agreement is actually a poor precedent to cite.
1. The technology for removing sulfur was already known. The mandate just provided the incentives for implemnetation and tweaking.
2. The amount of pollutant to be handled was small (2-4% of emissions).
3. There were alternatives: low sulfur coal and natural gas.

In the present case we have:
1. No functional technology for "clean coal" or other ways to handle CO2.
2. A huge amount of pollutant, hard coal is essentially 100% carbon. Stack emission are much higher in CO2 to be removed.
3. Alternative "fuels" like wind and solar have not yet been proven to be up to the task. They also don't solve the issue of the need for liquid fuel for transportation and similar uses.

An image popped into my head this morning. We are in a leaky boat and the various groups are debating whether to bail with a teaspoon or a tablespoon.

I'll sing my same song: the only viable solution is to cut consumption. Improvements in efficiency only encourage greater use since the price falls. Cutting consumption means restructuring society so that it is not based upon consuming and wasting non-renewable resources at an ever-increasing, unsustainable rate.

That no one is willing to discuss this and to see how 19th Century capitalism cannot be the model for the future does not bode well for the people of the world.

Martin Langeland said...

This Cautious optimism reminds me of a quote attributed to Lloyd George:
"There is nothing so dangerous as to leap a chasm in two jumps."
--ml said...


I fully agree that this is much harder than SO2. I fear that cutting consumption is more unrealistic than massively subsidizing too-expensive wind or CC&S. This is one of the reasons I have long said we need to bite the bullet and get nuclear going again in a serious way.


Well, that is cute, except that it suggests that things are not so bad if you sit tight, but they might be terrible if you attempt to jump. In this case, things may be only slightly worse if we jump, but they are likely to be terrible if we do not.

Robert D Feinman said...

I've also changed my position a bit on nuclear, but the fear of "proliferation" means that the most cost-effective technology (breeders) is not being considered.

The present systems favored in the US use too much Uranium, create too much waste and are too expensive to build and operate without massive (mostly hidden) government subsidies. The 20th Century will be remembered for one of the most wasteful resource projects since the pyramids: enriching Uranium up to weapons grade and the diluting it again for use in reactors.

I'd also like to see some real progress on dealing with the spent fuel rods being housed in people's backyards all over the country. Breeders could be part of a solution as can reactors which use Thorium.

As for cutting consumption, aren't we seeing this right now because of the downturn? Extending this is a matter of changing attitudes and expectations.

You might find my essay:
Slow Work amusing.

Barkley Rosser said...


I think cutting consumption is a longer term project, not something that will be easily sold in the near term.

France and Japan are going for breeders. Ultimately if one wants to reuse nuclear waste, the solution to the storage problem, one needs them. Thorium looks good also.