Just as Obama's team seems to have put the discussion of climate change on the back burner, so have many other politicians. Though it passed in the House of Representatives in 2009, cap-and-trade legislation came to rest in the Senate during the following election year, basically halting any hope for a direct emissions reduction policy from Congress. And since the Republicans swept the House last November, it's been impossible to bring forward new anti-carbon legislation. So advocates in the Obama administration and among Democrats are instead focused on defending the EPA, which is under attack from Republicans aiming to eliminate its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
Also, early this year, House Speaker John Boehner did away with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was created in 2007 by then Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his Democratic predecessor, to deal specifically with global warming-related issues. "Last fall's congressional elections were really a turning point. The Republican Party . . . reached a political decision that they are not going to acknowledge [climate change] as an issue," says Edward Maibach, director of the George Mason center. "That was really the death knell of public dialogue about climate change for the time being."
Even Democrats who do see climate change as a problem have changed their tune in favor of more politically popular rhetoric. "Democratic leaders don't want to be talking about climate change or global warming, they want to be talking about clean energy or green jobs. You can read those as synonyms or euphemisms, but they're not," Maibach says.
The change in the debate might not be all politics, however. Myron Ebell, who directs the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, says it could be that the public, like many Republicans in Congress, is just coming around to reality—which, he says, is that global warming is not the threat that "alarmists" make it out to be. While there have been slight rises in temperatures, he says, the dire effects predicted in the past simply haven't played out. An example of this, originally pointed out last week by Gavin Atkins, a blogger at AsianCorrespondent.com, is the U.N. Environment Program's prediction in 2005 that there would be as many as 50 million people displaced by the effects of climate change by 2010. So far, censuses reportedly show more migration to rather than from the would-be affected areas. Ebell also says the claims that global warming would worsen malaria and that hurricanes would become more frequent remain unproven. "People aren't dumb. They remember what they saw last year and two years ago, and they say, 'Hey, that didn't happen,' and 'Nobody believes that anymore,' " Ebell says.
It's clear that the debate in Washington over climate science is nowhere near settled. And especially since the topic has fallen out of fashion to talk about, it may never be. As long as Democrats move forward with their more politically friendly energy strategy and Republicans stand firm on their platform, it looks like only apocalyptic weather effects could give global warming another day in the sun.