With fewer glaciers in Glacier National Park and un-cold-killed pine beetles eating our forests, we Montanans suffer the negative effects of global warming everyday. Yet this purportedly most-advanced country in the world cannot enact desperately needed, vastly improved clean air standards. Why not?
Eric Pooley's must-read chronicle of the battle against global warming takes you from its birth and infancy through adolescence and adulthood. There are good guys who've won Nobel Prizes in this sort of thing, and bad guys who pay vast amounts of money to spread knowingly false information, as the Earth's atmosphere moves toward a tipping point of no return.
Of course, Al Gore's efforts for the past two decades are more than mentioned, as are those of environmental groups like Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace. Yet Pooley concentrates on Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, and his successful efforts to broker a deal with the main opponents—the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers—whose living is made on the fossil fuels that create the greenhouse effect leading to climate change.
Pooley details how ExxonMobile and its ilk hired groups of global climate change deniers to disseminate blatantly false information and create phony grassroots organizations to support oil and coal interests. One such group, the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), rubbed Pooley the wrong way when he interviewed its president, Stephen L. Miller, after talking with Vice President of Communications Joe Lucas. Miller told Pooley that the raising of energy prices that cleaner coal would require, troubled people.
"There are a lot of people out there who struggle," Miller told him. "My grandmother, who died many years ago, lived on a railroad pension. If you went to visit it was 99 degrees in her kitchen. She would turn on an air conditioner while you were there, turn it off as soon as you left."
Pooley had heard this before.
"The story rang a bell," he writes, "but it took a moment to place it. A month before, Joe Lucas had said the very same thing about his aunt Ethel. Except it was 120 degrees in her kitchen."
As a legislative issue, confronting climate change really did heat up after President Obama took office in 2009, following the Bush Administration, which had been bought and paid for by fossil fuel funds. Pooley details how Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rammed through a comprehensive bill placing a market-based cap on carbon emissions, better known as cap and trade. In the cap-and-trade scheme, a limit on access to a resource (the cap) is defined and then allocated among users in the form of permits, and compliance is established by comparing actual emissions with permits surrendered including any permits traded within the cap. The battle then moved to the Senate, and the Lieberman-Warner bill centered on cap and trade.
Pooley prefaces his book with an oft-forgotten fact about our Congress: that it's designed not to have legislation passed or, as the Wall Street Journal noted, that the system makes it difficult "for colossal tax and regulatory burdens to foxtrot into law without scrutiny." The GOP, having morphed into the Grand Obstructionist Party, most visibly in the Senate where nary a Republican senator would vote for virtually anything Obama supported, required the Senate to get a super-majority—60 out of 100 senators—to negate the threat to filibuster. Searching for kinks in the environmentalist armor, the Chamber of Commerce traveled across the county to demonstrate how the bill would hurt folks, making a stop in the Last Best Place.
In Billings, the group used a much-discredited ExxonMobile-funded conservative think tank "study" claiming that 52,000 jobs will be lost in Montana if the Lieberman-Warner bill passed and that it would cost the average Montana family $5,400 per year. It also projected that Montana families would have to "cut out things like piano lessons, dance lessons, or Little League or summer camp" and that "the idea of saving for college for your kids—that's gone." Unwilling to be drawn into the Chamber's apocalyptic parallel universe, Mike Lambert, the regulatory affairs manager at the local power company PPL Montana, announced that cap and trade was "a solution that needs to be implemented on a national scale."
Alas, the bill died.
Pooley cites three main reasons for the bill not passing. First, when the issue called out for Obama to lead his troops in the Senate, he balked, saving his political capital to pass health care reform. Next, he cites journalists who were trained that there are always two sides to a story and both must be reported, no matter how insignificant one side might be. Finally, he points the finger at we the people who talk a lot about stopping global warming but will not pay even a little more money to prevent it. So the glaciers continue to melt, and the pine beetles eat our trees. Much more damage will follow. The only question is how soon.