Game over: Senate abandons climate bill

The Senate’s abandonment of climate legislation, confirmed last night, is not a victory of Republicans over Democrats, business over government, skeptics over believers. It’s a failure of capitalism, above all, and a failure of capitalism’s apprentice: democracy.

In facing global warming, human beings have faced the unprecedented necessity–and the unprecedented possibility–of changing our collective behavior through our collective will.

We didn’t attempt to do it through imperial fiat, totalitarian dictate, One World Order — we attempted to do it through the most powerful engine of change known to modern time, and only after taking a vote.

Capitalism has marched across the last two centuries undeterred by world wars, by massive economic collapses, by the rise and fall of rival ideologies sporting massive armies toting lethal arsenals, by unimagined technological innovation, by profound shifts in what we know, what we believe, and what we can do.

Through all of this it has continued to chug along, from steam engines to microprocessors, puff puff puffing from its chimney.

What other force can chill out an overheating planet? Not only does it have the power, it has the smokestacks.

The climate bill was not anti-capitalist: it would have created a new market. It was not anti-business: it had been endorsed by every major business that would be affected by it. It was not a tax: it was an opportunity to make a new kind of profit.

It was not undemocratic: and that may have been its undoing.

It was a small-d democratic attempt to steer the power of the markets to effect global change, not in the name of any utopian ideal, unless in this cynical age survival has become the utopian ideal.

It was capitalist, democratic, and necessary, and in America’s upper legislative body, that august chamber of powdery old rich men and women, it failed.

This failure, the one announced last night, is the failure that counts. Copenhagen failed to live up to the world’s hopes and expectations, but at the end of the meetings in Copenhagen more real possibility existed than had existed before. Real financial commitments had been made, real alliances had formed across ideologies, a real path had been charted, if only roughly.

All that was needed was for the United States to step up and make a measley 17 percent reduction in its carbon output, to show the world that it could harness the power that had created this problem in order to solve it.

This is the failure that counts: the failure of the United States, which has produced most of the world’s existing greenhouse gas pollution. The failure, in particular, of the United States Senate, so resistant to change it would sooner risk the climate than do anything risky.

This is the failure of individual senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who promised to support the bill three times and broke that promise at least that many times, in the end using BP’s oil spill disaster as an excuse to do nothing about the disaster of oil.

And this is the failure, in some way, of 99 others just like him.

The Democrats needed one Republican vote, but in the end, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they could not find one. Those fatcat Republicans make nice scapegoats, best roasted on a spit, but a political choice was made in 57 cold Democratic hearts as well, now relieved not to have to fight this uncertain battle in an election year.

This is not a partisan failure. It’s too big for that. A scalding future will not look back on 2010 and blame the 41 Republicans in the Senate.

Those terribly uncomfortable future humans wandering their dismal, apocalyptic scorched earth, alone but for the company of cockroaches and flies, as they gather around the few remaining mud holes, will blame our era, our system, our inability to control ourselves, our inability to act at will for the common and the future good.

They will scoff at our naivete, our preposterous notion that freedom equates to handing power to a tiny cabal of obscenely wealthy eogists who couldn’t be bothered to save the planet.

They’ll blame us. “Idiots!” they’ll say. And then they’ll die. And with cockroaches in stewardship, the earth will recover.

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