“As the World Burns” is the excellent title of an expansive New Yorker story that looks at, as the subhead puts it, “how the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change.”
It’s a play both on the soap opera title “As the World Turns,” getting at the soap-operatic level of horse trading and alliance making that went on during 2009 and this year to try to make the legislation happen, and on the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns.” (“As the World Burns” has also become something of a stock phrase, used by — among others — Rolling Stone as the title of a story back in January in the wake of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, artists Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan for a 2007 graphic novel and Mother Jones as the name of a 2005 special project on global warming.)
Ryan Lizza’s story is an extraordinarily detailed summary of what went on behind-the-scenes in trying to, as he puts it, “fundamentally change the American economy and slow the emission of gases that are causing the inexorable, and potentially catastrophic, warming of the planet.”
It’s in part a leadership story of how alliances are made in Washington. It’s in part a strategy story of how much compromise is involved in legislation that aimed to cover as many topics as this one did — cap-and-trade carbon emissions plans, loan guarantees and tax incentives for the nuclear industry, expanded off-shore oil drilling, government subsidies for natural gas, requirements that utilities figure out how to generate more electricity from clean sources. And it’s in part a management story of why alliances fall apart.
As Lizza lays it out, the life and death of the bill seemed to turn in one event in April, when a story appeared on Foxnews.com with the headline “WH Opposes Higher Gas Taxes Floated by S.C. GOP Sen. Graham in Emerging Senate Energy Bill.”
It was at that moment that Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican who introduced the legislation with Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, felt betrayed.
Writes Lizza: “Graham was ‘screaming profanities,’ one of the K.G.L. [Kerry, Graham, Lieberman] staffers said.