So Carol Browner (director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy) says there's very little chance Congress (that is, the Senate) is going to get climate/energy legislation passed and to the president before the UN meeting in Copenhagen [LINK]. This is no surprise, just an update, and an admission from the administration.
My feelings on this are a little jumbled. My first thought was, 'yeah, we knew that was coming.' After that though, I felt some anger and frustration, first with the Obama administration, and then with the Senate, and then -- and most viscerally -- with the Senate democrats. The administration is trying to get things done, there's no doubt about that. They are having so much difficulty convincing Congress that Americans deserve affordable health care that something has to give, and other massive legislative action is exactly what that something has to be. I can respect that they feel they need to focus their energy, it's just too bad. Which brings me to my feelings about the Democrats in the Senate. Rather than express these feelings, let's just say I have some left-populist rage about these people. Afterall, they now control the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority. That means if they could just agree to do something, they could do it. Instead, they play politics while the world suffers. Ooops, I'm starting to express those feelings I said I wouldn't.
Beyond the anger, though, I am very concerned. From my point of view, dealing with the USA's energy needs and with climate change (which we have all come to accept are intrinsically linked, right?) should be at the top of the agenda. The inertia in the climate system has protected humanity from it's own actions so far, but every day that passes brings parts of the climate system closer to the brink. When will the ocean stop buffering the temperature rise by absorbing CO2? When will acidification start to impact the base of the global food web? At what point will the snow/ice-albedo feedbacks kick in strongly and permanently alter the high latitudes? How will that impact the permafrost, holding it's vast reservoir of methane? I'm deeply concerned that if we don't take more drastic action now, that in the next few decades we will pay for it 10s or 100s of times over. Not just in economic terms, but with the cost of decreased biodiversity (that is, species going extinct) and lives of people lost to famine, disease, and natural disaster. At the same time, if we delay now, will we be pushed to the point of actually implementing some of the drastic geoengineering ideas that have been discussed in the past few years?
Then there is the guilt.... I feel guilty because in these possible consequences, I find that I'm genuinely curious about the outcome. I think we can learn a lot about natural systems by thinking about climate change, and even by really thinking about geoengineering schemes. This the guilt of being a climate scientist. There's also the guilt of being an American; we are most responsible for the climate change we're already committed to, and thus we are most responsible for ameliorating it. Yet we do nothing. We continue, as individuals and as a society, to live a carbon intensive lifestyle, fully knowing that we are poisoning the Earth for future generations. Frankly, I also have guilt as a human, since it is our species among the millions that have existed on Earth for billions of years that has discovered how to exploit the system so fully as to potentially bring it to a grinding halt.