The Senate gave up on efforts to pass a comprehensive energy bill designed to begin a switch away from fossil fuels today, leading me and surely even the eternally optimistic Tom Friedman to question again whether our democracy is equipped to meet 21st century global challenges. The Democrats were not able to muster enough votes to move the bill to the floor, fearing Republicans would point to the measure in the upcoming midterm elections as proof of insensitivity to the needs of ordinary Americans.
Once again, the complexities of the issue have been reduced to the short term dictates of the power game in Washington, and the logic of sustainability and the long term interests of our country have not been able to pierce the miasma of misinformation, rapacious greed and sheer shortsightedness promoted by the Republican party. The situation is untenable, but a strange solace is that it hasn't changed in over a decade, since the Clinton/Gore administration first floated the idea of a BTU tax, which in its elegance and its reliance on basic market forces to do the heavy lifting of engineering us away from carbon poisoning the atmosphere even outdid the idea of a cap and trade system.
The meekness and timidity of the Democrats, reneging on a central plank of the Obama campaign, cannot be excused. It will hurt them in the fall as environmentalists and even uninitiated voters who would have been impressed by basic gumption and a stand on principle will now fail to be motivated to support the vote counters who could not see beyond their plush offices.
What now? One of the faults of this polarized, largely blind populace is a lack of organization and education on this direly important topic. Entire doctoral theses have probably been written, (and if they haven't, here's a good idea for somebody) on why the Europeans are so far ahead of us in supporting the idea of controlling the amount of carbon we are dumping in the air by becoming more energy efficient and switching away from fossil fuels as soon as we can. But having lived in Europe, I can tell you that one difference is a wide-spread, diverse and loud non-profit sector, an organized citizenry, that has banged the drum on climate change and global warming from villages and cities across the Old World for many years. We have nothing like that here, but there is one new group, 350.org that is impressive in its energy and the wealth of interesting campaign ideas they are putting out there. Things like trying to get solar panels installed in the White House might seem like small potatoes, but it is from these beginnings that a critical mass of support for positive change might finally come.