Eric Pooley’s The Climate War was the most exciting book about global warming published this year. It’s a page-burning political thriller—a Washington-insider account of the long drive to get climate legislation through Congress. Politicans, coal execs, and the surprisingly influential folks at the NRDC are the principals, and as the book proceeds you can feel Pooley’s conservative sympathies sliding toward the coal-region eco-radicals he meets. Everything is building toward the effort to get the 2009 Waxman-Markey bill passed, and the tale is so gripping that at moments I forgot that I already knew the end of the story, and cheered myself with the thought that the bill, woefully inadequate as it was, might actually make it. Instead, of course, we are where we are, still careening toward disaster.
Ryan Lizza’s “As the World Burns,” from the October 11 New Yorker, serves as an excellent postscript to Pooley’s book, updating the story through the failure of 2010’s Kerry-Lieberman bill, which never even made it to a vote. Throughout these stories, Obama appears as a wise but hamstrung fool, aware of the magnitude of the threat but acquiescent to advisors (Rahm Emmanuel comes off as especially diabolical) who value political capital above all else. Despite all their differences, the legacy of the current President may prove identical to that of the last one: a total failure to do the one thing that needed doing.