It took Congress more than three decades to consider a major initiative to ward off global warming, but only a few days to kill it. In June, the Senate rejected the Climate Security Act, which would have put America on track to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 71 percent by 2050. The bill was specifically crafted to soften the blow to the nation’s coal industry — coal generates more than a third of all carbon-dioxide pollution — by providing coal-burning power companies with $300 billion in subsidies and outright giveaways. But the lavish incentives did nothing to prevent Big Coal from going all out to defeat the measure; one industry-funded TV ad implied that if Congress passed the bill, “we may have to say goodbye to the American way of life.” In the end, virtually every senator from a state where coal is mined or burned voted against the measure.
The fight over the climate bill underscores the biggest obstacle to ending America’s self-destructive addiction to fossil fuels. Despite record profits, the oil industry knows the end is near and is madly diversifying into wind, solar and other energy sources. The auto industry, which has long opposed solutions to global warming, is so weakened by sinking profits and its shortsighted bet on SUVs that it’s hardly a factor in the debate anymore. But coal knows that global warming represents the end of an era: There is simply no cost-effective way to burn coal without cooking the planet. The industry is currently blanketing the nation with ads for “clean coal,” hoping to dupe consumers into thinking that coal is a 21st-century fuel, but it’s all PR bullshit. At the moment, there is only one carbon-containment strategy that works for Big Coal: delay, delay, delay.