Stone Coal

The next time one of your Tea Party buddies tells you he or she votes Republican because the GOP is a “pro-life” party, ask him or her if allowing unchecked pollution is “pro-life.” As the New York Times notes, the party’s continued resistance to doing anything about the climate crisis is beyond shameless:

The United States, which is under growing international pressure to price carbon, is missing from the declaration for a key reason: conservative opposition to Mr. Obama’s climate change proposals, specifically a carbon tax. The opposition will only intensify if Republicans win control of the Senate in November and the new majority leader is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, where coal — the world’s largest source of carbon pollution — is the lifeblood of the state’s economy.

“It’s time for the global elites to face facts,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “President Obama’s war on coal won’t have any meaningful impact on global carbon emissions. What it will do is ship American jobs overseas, raise the cost of living substantially for middle and working-class families and throw thousands more Kentuckians out of work.”…

“The most powerful move that a government can make in the fight against climate change is to put a price on carbon,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president of sustainability.

To many Republicans on Capitol Hill, such statements are anathema. In 2010, after Mr. Obama tried but failed in the face of conservative opposition to push a national cap-and-trade bill through Congress, victorious Republicans galvanized against the idea and launched campaigns against politicians who support carbon pricing. Mr. Obama in turn circumvented Congress and in June released a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation under his executive authority that requires states to submit their own plans to cut emissions — but does not tell them explicitly how to do so…

As David Roberts noted a few days ago, the dynamic of denial is not likely to be disrupted on the right anytime soon, despite the momentum generated by the People’s Climate March:

Most Republican reps come from heavily Republican districts. They have much to fear from their right flank. Eric Cantor — House leader and soulless apparatchik Eric Cantor — was picked off in a primary challenge recently over some minor, possibly imagined heterodoxy, the latest in a long string of insufficiently groupthinky Republicans to be taken out by the Tea Party (or as it used to be known, the conservative base). Republicans in Washington live in terror of the right. By contrast, they have nothing whatsoever to fear from the left, which constitutes a rump minority where they’re from. All the incentives push one way.

As long as climate sanity is defined as heresy in the epistemologically vacuum-sealed Fox bubble, no conservative lawmaker will touch it with a 10-foot pole. It doesn’t matter if you get a million or 10 million people marching in the streets — as long as you don’t get any of the resentful white guys who vote Rs into office, Republican reps won’t care. To see all those unions and brown people and professors and feminists and queers gathered in one place, shouting for an international treaty, just confirms their worst fears. (Of course, to be a conservative in America today just means having your worst fears confirmed 24 hours a day.)

Democrats have a solid and growing majority in presidential elections. Absent some exogenous event like another depression or terrorist attack that activates people’s lizard brains, I expect Hillary Clinton to win, probably twice. But Republicans are almost certain to keep hold of their House majority for the duration of her administration. And because America is burdened with a stupid, outmoded presidential system — a House and president, both with a claim on political legitimacy, both able to utterly stymie the other — the result is likely to be gridlock. Marches and other protests won’t substantially change that dynamic.

Now, what marches and organizing can do is strengthen the resolve of the many Dem lawmakers who are notionally, but not really, on the side of climate action (which includes most of them). Agitate their constituents and you can move them from climate sparrows to climate hawks. Unify the entire left around climate action — one of the march’s explicit goals — and you’ll get much more of it in those places where Dems do have the power, often at the city or state level. Climate hawks are on the verge of making the Pacific Northwest a large, vibrant, wealthy area of the country that powers itself entirely without coal. That’s no small thing.

Unless you live in Kentucky, you won’t have a chance to vote Mitch McConnell out this year. However, you do have a chance to cast a vote that will send a message on behalf of strong climate action. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Climate CoLab is holding a contest to determine the most effective concept for reducing carbon emissions in the United States; this contest ends on September 30. As a longtime advocate for a rebated carbon fee and dividend policy, I can think of one concept that deserves your support in this contest. Cast your vote today for this policy; as you do so, just imagine Mitch McConnell falling to his knees in woe.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.