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Tomgram: Bill McKibben, A Wilted Senate on a Heating Planet

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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Where are they now? Last winter, when record snowstorms brought life in the northeast corridor to a halt, Virginia Republicans launched a web ad, "12 inches of global warming," and the family of Oklahoma senator and global warming "skeptic" Jim Inhofe built an igloo on the national mall, labeling it "Al Gore's new home." Now, as Xtreme weather has been setting new records for pure swelter along that same corridor (and pure drench in the Midwest), who's building a sweat lodge on the Mall labeled "Jim Inhofe's new home"? Where are the mocking Democratic web ads? Has the president said a word? In fact, amid temperatures that hit 105 degrees and above in the East, has anyone said a word? Do you realize just how rare are the stories in major papers or on the TV news that even suggest heavily covered weird weather in our nation and elsewhere could in any way be linked to global warming in a year that may break world warmth records?

Sweltering New York --103 in the shade and getting hotter, it seemed -- with its aging power infrastructure teetering at the edge of serial blackout, was the drumroll for the start of my 66thyear on this planet. Now, at a moment when you can hardly check out the news and not notice a weather anomaly that looks curiously like the new norm-- heat of a sort Moscow has never seen, drenching monsoon rains and floods, killing more than a thousand people, that are a singular first in Pakistan -- the mainstream media has largely left global warming in a ditch somewhere, especially when it comes to weather reporting. Writers at Scientific American may think that global warming is, by now,"undeniable," but the U.S. Senate, undoubtedly aware not only of the temperature outside but of the degree of American media (and public) denial about it, has reached other conclusions entirely.

Bill McKibben,TomDispatch regular and author of the invaluable new book,Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, assesses our national moment in the heat and just how wilted we've seemed to be. (And while you're at it, catch him in Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview discussing why the public needs to lead the fight against global warming by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod,here.)Tom

We're Hot as Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Any More
Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming

By Bill McKibben

Try to fit these facts together:

*According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.

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* A "staggering" new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.

*Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees. I can turn my oven to 130 degrees.

* And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. They didn't do less than they could have -- they did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.

I wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming back in 1989, and I've spent the subsequent 21 years working on the issue. I'm a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Not quick to anger. So what I want to say is: this is fucked up. The time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.

For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by a collection of the most corporate and moderate environmental groups, outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you're supposed to: they wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly, and compromised at every turn.

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By the time they were done, they had a bill that only capped carbon emissions from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely you could actually hear the oinking. They bent over backwards like Soviet gymnasts. Senator John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: "We believe we have compromised significantly, and we're prepared to compromise further."

And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone -- not just Reid, not just the Republicans. Even President Obama wouldn't lend a hand, investing not a penny of his political capital in the fight.

The result: total defeat, no moral victories.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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