Jesse Jenkins is waxing graphically on the complexity of climate change, and using that complexity as a reason to decide that cap and trade is insufficient, and that the real solutions are in the development of new technologies. And I am not a policy expert myself, but I call bullshit, for cultural and practical physical reasons.
First, one of the best aspects of Waxman-Markey is the fact that it exists as an appropriately scaled step in the right direction. It's like a parent coming into the room. I believe that this alone is enormous cultural tonic that will stimulate the positive drive to solve for climate change that most people want, but that we have no culture or language or shared psychological space to support.
The worst aspect of the climate change debate is the way it consistently brings out the worst in people. This creates a culture that every sane and moderate person is right to want to turn away from. The deniers are holding on to their wrong point of view way past the point of being reasonable and are generally letting themselves become tools of a strategy to delay action as long as possible because they are frightened. And environmentalists are running around on the comments section of blogs like Climate Progress talking in terms of hostile takeover, namecalling, and, just to put a nice fascist cherry on top, climate enlightenment.
Seriously. People are using the term climate enlightenment. And climate trauma.
Everyone is operating from a place of weakness, and this creates a culture around solving this problem that's heavy on fanciful flights of denial, imaginative totalitarian solutions, shrill voices, and comment moderation. It is entirely possible that Waxman-Markey would do little to untangle the complex flow chart above, but would do much to moderate and enrich the culture of climate change debate, simply because it would affirm in a broad way that the problem exists, and is under the purview of a responsible and responsive democratic government. Even if it doesn't do much, it could do a lot simply by providing a strong empathic, democratic trellis on which to train a grownup approach to solving the problem.
That said, I have sat patiently through many a presentation in which it was argued that we actually have the technology to fix climate change now, and that thinking about this in terms of some sort of technological superbreakthrough is both unnecessary and overly, dangerously hopeful. Or to put it another way, it's a big and complicated problem, but it's not that complex. There's too much CO2, methane and a handful of other greenhouse gasses. Let's cut the amount that we emit, starting now! We are enormously dependent on fossil fuels right now, but that doesn't mean that we don't any use clean energy and that we can't step up clean energy solutions, electric cars, government subsidized weatherstripping, Oprah-style boiler giveaways and other solutions right now. Today.
Or think of it this way. You have solved problems of your own in your own smaller-scale life, and you know as well as I do that the only way to start solving that enormous-looking problem is to take the first small step toward fixing it, even if that first step isn't enough, or isn't the exact right step. You can't lose fifty pounds without going for that first walk around the block, or making that first decision to eat one cookie instead of a bunch. You can't make anything without starting, and it's often hard to know where to start. And the practical power of Waxman-Markey is that is it gives a whole lot of people who want to start thinking about taking practical steps structured permission to start.
Climate change is a devil of a problem because it's large and potentially catastrophic, but at the same time persistently invisible and future-oriented. This makes it a collective problem of mind as much as a collective practical problem. There is a wide gap between how we (and I mean different camps, all claiming the status of We) imagine climate change and its solutions and what will actually occur. And the only way to manage that gap between what we imagine and what exists is to allow solutions to evolve incrementally and respond to what each solution yields. Waxman-Markey is the first serious large-scale actual poking of the problem that the United States has attempted. Rather than whinge about it before it even happens, I think that the best response is to entertain it, and see what it gives us, and respond strongly to what happens outside our jumbled collective mindscape.
Or to put it another way, we are all standing around imagining all kinds of scenarios, and judging Waxman-Markey against what we think will happen, even though the problem is external to us. This approach is very human, but it's less helpful than just admitting that we don't know exactly how to fix this problem or how any individual solution will unfold, and to try something that seems sane anyway, and asking the external problem to guide us.