To be confounded at any age is annoying, but to be confounded at 73 is undignified, even embarrassing.  Oh – what the hell! – I’ve grown tired of pretending I know what’s going on when in fact I don’t. So I herewith freely confess: when I try to understand the politics of the environment today, I am clueless. 

Here’s what’s got me confounded. 

For example, back in my day – that is to say, the years after Earth Day 1970 – the environmental movement possessed considerable political power – and on both sides of the aisle too. In 1970, the Clean Air Act passed Congress by votes of 73-0 in the Senate and 375-1 in the House.  In 1972, the Clean Water Act passed the Senate 86-0 and the House 380-14. Hey, you can’t get more bipartisan than that!

And this bipartisanship endured for decades, at least through 1990 when President George H.W. Bush promised and delivered a new Clean Air Act. 

Whatever happened to this bipartisan support? Where did it go? Damned if I know! I’m confounded. We sure need it now – more than ever – what with global warming breathing down our necks. But there’s not a smidgen of bipartisanship to be found.

Nowadays, nobody competing in a Republican primary can even admit that climate change is an issue! Republican candidates must denounce global warming with as much fervor as they denounce abortion or gay marriage or Godless Communism. I don’t get it. How did global warming get to be a wedge issue? This confounds me.  

What about the Democrats, the champions of the environment?  Here I’m confounded anew. 

Democrats were incapable of securing action on climate even in 2009 when they controlled the White House, a hefty majority in the House of Representatives and sixty seats in the Senate. In partisan terms, those were optimal conditions unlikely to be repeated any time soon.  What gives? This confounds me. 

Clearly, environmentalists have been relying on the Democrats to get the job done and clearly this isn’t working.  Look at cap-and-trade, which appears to be dead as a door nail. Even if it’s the best single idea for combating climate change that anybody ever had, it isn’t going anywhere. 

Public support for action on climate change is shrinking, not increasing. According to a March 2011 Gallup poll, 48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.

Now I hear that environmentalists and their liberal allies have decided to mark time, to husband their resources, and to await a better outcome in 2013 after the next Presidential election and then press for a revival of cap-and-trade. 

This I don’t get either.  It assumes a Democratic resurgence in 2012 and this is no sure thing. But even if such resurgence occurs, what makes environmentalists think they can do in 2013 what they couldn’t do in 2009?  President Obama, even if reelected handily, is unlikely to have a mandate to address climate change. He’s even unlikely to seek one. 

It seems to me that while the Republicans are denying scientific realities, environmentalists are denying political reality – and the Democrats are hoping it will all go away.   

Meanwhile time is running out and the crisis deepens and spreads. Whose fault is this? Who’s to blame?  I’d like to get my hands on them. If I knew who they were, I’d slap them silly. The trouble is I can’t figure out who to slap.  And that’s another reason I’m confounded. 

This is the first of what will be a series of commentaries dissecting fundamental         obstacles to environmental protection -- that is if I can stop sputtering with rage long enough to write them.

                                                                                                            Byron Kennard
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