The GOP is building a political base… for China

President Barack Obama walks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to their bilateral meeting at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama walks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to their bilateral meeting at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The climate triumvirate’s new energy bill will replace cap and trade with two or more different strategies–a carbon tax, perhaps a carbon fee, maybe a carbon dividend–each targeting a different segment of the economy and each with its own timing.

By dividing utilities and industries, and by spooning out pork in different sized ladles, Senators Kerry (D), Graham (R), and Lieberman (L) hope to prevent utilities and industry from forming a single block of opposition. This according to The New York Times.

That would be a fine strategy, maybe, if utilities and industry were the opposition.

But there was no such block before–ExelonDukeCon Ed, other utilities and many industrial giants favored cap and trade as it was. The block opposing it is the Republican Party.

The Achilles’ heel of democracy was exposed during the Copenhagen Climate Talks, where democratic states like the U.S. were unable to negotiate a crucial agreement without the consent of legislators at home, particularly opposition legislators.

China bore no such burdens.

While Republicans in the U.S. Congress have been able to prevent life-and-death initiatives like health-care and energy reform, China has demonstrated its freedom to act.

General Motors canceled Humvee production last week because China–now the world’s largest auto market–wants cleaner, more efficient autos. Recently China passed the U.S. in both the manufacture and implementation of alternative energy sources and in the construction of high-speed rail.

Republicans might think they’re helping themselves, with an eye to November’s elections, by keeping America in stalemate. But they’re helping no one more than they’re helping China.

In Copenhagen, when the world wanted the United States to cut emissions beyond the 17 percent Barack Obama had promised, Obama was unable to budge–not because he didn’t want to, but because the prospects of even that modest cut passing our Senate seem so perilously scant. Since December, those prospects have dimmed.

Democracies in the developing world share this problem. As soon as he returned to India, Environmental Minister Jairem Ramesh endured a lashing before India’s parliament, where opposition parties accused him of giving too much away in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord.

Ramesh was forced to utter defensive statements like these: “I did not go to Copenhagen to save the world. I went to Copenhagen to protect India’s national interests…. For India, climate change is a developmental issue and my mandate was to protect India’s right to foster economic growth.”

Where’s the greater good in those statements? Or the hope for humanity?

Whether or not democracy is the highest form of government, it is clearly the form most suited to fostering economic growth. We are a free people, free to buy more stuff. But not free to change course when icebergs, like global warming, lurk in the waters ahead.

Only totalitarian states like China can do that. The U.S. is hamstrung by the degree of compromise embedded in its system of government, which serves and preserves the status quo. Even a superminority in Congress can prevent us from preparing for a looming global emergency.

We’ll take action on global warming one day, but it might take a catastrophic event to force the political will in Congress–something more catastrophic than the submersion of New Orleans–and by then it may already be too late. Between now and then, we will continue to hear about progress in China.

In Copenhagen, China also aimed to preserve its economic growth, primarily by preventing an agreement that would imperil development, secondarily by taking advantage of new technologies to create an energy and economy infrastructure that can survive climate change. That’s where the myopia of the Republican position comes into focus.

Even if the U.S. remains oil dependent, the rest of the world is shifting to cleaner energy. Where will all those nations buy solar panels, windmills, and even nuclear plants?

In economic terms, why are Republicans willing to cede that sector to China? In ideological terms, why are Republicans willing to let communism look like the system that works?

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