By James Boyce. Originally posted on Triple Crisis.
For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” These words in President Obama’s State of the Union address came as music to the ears of environmentalists. Do they herald a real effort to break the climate policy impasse in Washington?
Obama urged Congress to pursue a “bipartisan, market-based solution,” citing as a model the cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman.
The McCain-Lieberman bill failed to clear the Senate in 2003. It failed again in 2005. So did two subsequent cap-and-trade bills, Lieberman-Warner in 2008 and Waxman-Markey in 2010. Any new effort to enact a national climate policy will be the fifth try.
Environmentalists blame Republicans and climate change deniers for the past defeats. But if there is to be any chance of forging a successful policy this time around, some deeper introspection is in order.
An insightful essay by Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol offers a good starting point. Skocpol doesn’t downplay the role of fossil-fueled extremists in blocking climate legislation, but neither does she ignore the fatal weakness in the Democratic party’s past strategy: relying on insider bargains, lubricated by carbon permit giveaways to energy corporations, to get the votes needed to pass a bill.