That may have been the right decision for that time. Even without climate change provisions, the Clean Air Act of 1990 was a major piece of legislation. Including the provision over the President's objection may have led to a veto instead of a law, and prevented much progress on sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Moreover, evidence on climate change was still emerging.
Nearly a quarter-century later, a consistent and growing body of evidence has accumulated that increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon and methane have passed a dangerous threshold; that this increase is attributable to human activity; and that the effects, while mostly in the future, are starting to be felt, from melting ice caps in the polar regions to increased incidence of floods, droughts and severe weather elsewhere. It stands to reason, if we believe that actions have consequences: more people burning more things create more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (NOAA data: nearly 400 ppm now, up from 320 ppm 50 years ago), and more and more carbon dioxide is eventually going to affect something.
(carbon dioxide concentration over time, swiped from NOAA website:
In an ideal world, U.S. policy makers would have taken note of this phenomenon and the risks it poses. Conservatives and liberals, with their differing political philosophies, would produce a variety of different measures with various levels of intensity to address it. And, given the prevalence of divided government during this period, the result would be a mix of market mechanisms, regulations and subsidies.
This is not, however, an ideal world. The U.S. Congress is in the grip of climate change deniers, such that if anyone is tempted to propose meaningful legislation they haven't bothered. The fuel efficiency requirements--about which I'm ambivalent, but never mind--will finally get above 50 mpg in the mid-2020s, and we have new energy-saving light bulbs. Any serious conservation measures are pipedreams for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, today's Gazette, for some reason, included an op-ed by someone from the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition. It's the usual stuff--none of this is settled, there's a lot of uncertainty, people are mean to skeptics, and attributing climate change to Al Gore and writer Bill McKibben while ignoring the 99+% of climate scientists who have done the research on which Gore and McKibben opine. The writer violently misstates the state of argument, and otherwise sows confusion. There's not a datum in the piece.
So thank God for people like Rob Hogg who are willing to take up the case for climate change action, and to take it up repeatedly and relentlessly. Hogg, who represents me in the Iowa Senate, has just published America's Climate Century, a small, handy review of what we know and what we should do about it. It's easy to read, and easy to find what you're looking for. Chapter 2 summarizes research on what has already happened to the atmosphere; chapter 3 discusses likely future atmospheric changes given what's happened already; chapter 4 talks about what this will mean for human life on earth. Subsequent chapters discuss what individuals can do in lifestyle changes and policy advocacy. The appendix lists 18 common objections to climate change data, most of which will be familiar to anyone who reads this. It makes for a quick reality check for those times when you've been rhetorically spun once too often.
A key piece of advice Hogg states several times throughout the book is "a Doubting Thomas today can be a leader for climate action tomorrow." It's important to remember this in any political discussion. People who disagree with us aren't our enemies, or America's enemies. Snarkiness and hostility don't get us anywhere. We all have to live together, remember. Even if you're talking with someone who is resistant to persuasion, someone might be listening who is persuadable.
My only complaint about Hogg's book is that it is very light on references, although there are clues for the curious to follow (such as the names of numerous professional organizations that have endorsed climate change policy action). References to studies would be helpful for those who want to dig more deeply into the science. On the other hand, lists of references would have made the book longer and more expensive to produce.
If we Americans are going to live together, we need to deal with the world as it is, not the world as we wish it would be. We can and should try to make the world a better place, but that requires starting with what is. There is room for plenty of debate about climate change: its extent, its effects, policy responses, and how the costs of response should be spread are all up for grabs. But to deny that human production of greenhouse gases doesn't have any impact on the world, and that the vast preponderance of data so far point to exactly that, requires a ferocious desire not to believe it. I understand that people wish climate change weren't real. Heck, I wish climate change weren't real. But wishing something doesn't make it true. We need to start with the best information we have--understanding that we could always have more and better information--and work from there.
Senator Rob Hogg, America's Climate Century: What Climate Change Means for America in the 21st Century and What Americans Can Do about It. Zion, 2013.
Tom Harris, "Why We Need 'Calm' Approach to Climate Change," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 10 June 2013, 6A.
Cindy Hadish, "Book Review: America's Climate Century," Homegrown Iowan blog, 28 April 2013 [http://homegrowniowan.com/book-review-americas-climate-century/].
"Fuel-Efficiency Effort Defeated in Senate," CQ Almanac 46 (1990): 279-281.