Is John Kerry the real-life Captain Planet? No. But in a lot of ways, Yes! On Thursday, Kerry, alongside Joe Lieberman ("Heart"), introduced his thousand-page climate bill, the American Power Act. Let us answer your Frequently Asked Questions regarding it.
Q: So what is the deal with the name.
A: I know, I know.
A: I guess it's designed to appeal to Republicans, who could not possibly give a shit about climate change unless you pretend it's about Real American Jobs and Freedom From Moslem Oil? Who knows, with these guys. Probably Joe Lieberman wouldn't get on board unless it was called something that made him feel safe and warm inside, like had just taken away someone's rights.
Q: So what does the American—I'm sorry, I can't even say it—the Kerry-Lieberman legislation do?
A: Broadly speaking: It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 17% from their 2005 levels by 2020 and 85% by 2050, mostly through a "cap and trade" system to be rolled out across the energy system. Plus all sorts of support for renewable energy and efficiency standards.
Q: I don't really get it.
A: The really important thing that the legislation does is set a price on carbon emissions—somewhere between $12 to $25 a ton. So anytime a factory or power plant produces carbon emissions, they pony up to the government, who then passes the money along to the consumer.
Q: Don't we want to stop producing carbon emissions entirely, though?
A: Sure, but that's hard, and this is the U.S. government. The bill looks toward cleaner energy sources by pumping money into nuclear power, natural gas and "clean" coal (do you see how I used quotation marks there? That is because "clean" coal is not a "real" thing), all of which are probably wastes of our time. There is money going toward transit overhauls, and support for state-level energy-efficiency standards, which counts for something, I guess.
Q: And what about the whole "offshore drilling" thing?
A: It's in the bill, but way weaker than it was originally, due to the time BP broke the Gulf of Mexico. States can opt out of drilling 75 miles off of their coast, and neighboring states can veto any plans if it could potentially impact them.
Q. How does it compare to the legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year?
A: It's weaker in some places, and stronger in others. Here is a good side-by-side comparison.
Q: So will John Kerry's climate legislation save us all from certain doom?
A: Probably not, no. The truth is, we might already be beyond the tipping point, and into a climate-change feedback loop where melting permafrost releases methane into the atmosphere even without our help. So, you know. Invest in canned food.
Q: Why aren't we doing more?
A: Because the Republicans are more of the "wait and see" type when it comes to scientific consensus that the atmosphere is massively fucked. (Or, if you're Jim Inhofe, you are of the "fuck you, earth" type.) Um, and the Democrats, too. Really the whole Senate is not a huge fan of asking anyone to do anything that would make life a little more difficult in the short term, especially when "anyone" is "a big corporation."
Q: Given that, is there any chance of this thing passing?
A: Who knows? Kerry thinks it's going to happen. But he thought he was going to be president, so, you know. President Lindsey Graham was all for it, until he heard Harry Reid say the word "immigration", at which point he had a cry and went home.
So there's a good chance that no, nothing will happen this year, and 60 years from now, when you're huddled around the fire eating your one grandchild, you can tell your other grandchildren about the time you almost fixed the planet, but decided not to, because Lindsey Graham was feeling pouty that month.
Q: This is a fun thing to talk about.
A: I mean, yeah. But what do you want to hear? That it's OK to keep driving your car three blocks to the store whenever it's raining and you want Andy Capp's Hot Fries?
Q: That was only once.