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Kerry: This May Be Our Last Best Chance On Climate

Over at Grist, John Kerry has a piece discussing both the substance of his climate bill, the American Power Act, and the prospects for passage. Here's a key paragraph on the latter:

So what have we done? A lot of meeting and listening—between me, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.], hundreds of meetings one-on-one with our colleagues to find out what they needed to support a bill. And I absolutely believe we're closer than ever to getting across the finish line—but make no mistake, it remains difficult, even with President Obama in the White House, and even with the House of Representatives having passed their bill by the slimmest of margins last summer.
But we're going full-steam ahead because, in my judgment, this may be the last and certainly the best chance for the Senate to act, especially with the fact that I think the next Senate—given a 2012 presidential campaign added to the dynamic and a lot of new senators—is going to be less likely than this one to find a path to the 60 votes needed for passage. So we've got to get it done this year.

That's worth emphasizing. If a climate bill can't pass this Senate this year, it's hard to see when it might ever get done. Maybe by some miracle Democrats (along with a handful of pro-environmental Republicans) win sweeping majorities in 2012. But those odds don't seem good. And sure, the EPA can still regulate greenhouse gases on its own, but that's a relatively clumsy tool for rearranging the U.S. economy (I explained how the EPA would crack down on carbon here) and the agency could get bogged down in lawsuits for years.

That means emissions would keep rising and rising and it will become increasingly difficult to stave off a 2°C—or higher—rise in global temperatures (not least because other countries may start to slack off if they see one of the world's biggest carbon emitters doing nothing). And that has real consequences. This piece in The Guardian gives a nice little overview of what each degree of temperature rise looks like. Even a "mere" 2°C rise isn't pretty: Agricultural yields fail, coral reefs start vanishing, coastal flooding becomes more frequent. Going even higher than that is flirting with catastrophe. In all the commentary on the climate bill's prospects, no one seems to want to talk about the stakes in this droning little Senate debate, but they're awfully high.