The electric power industry is about to become the battleground for one of the great political struggles in American history. The troops are all lined up. The rhetorical cannons are blasting away. All that remains is the actual charge. Who will win? Who knows? Enjoy the show.

This is about climate change, of course. Global warming is an esoteric scientific issue that has now morphed itself into a radical vision of energy transformation, economic restructuring, and the nation’s biggest one-law revenue shift in history. Moreover, it is part of a worldwide political struggle. Short of war, this is as big as political events get.

What makes it so interesting—and so unpredictable—is that the forces are evenly divided. After lengthy preparations, the Democrats have their best people in all the key positions—the president, congressional committees, cabinet secretaries, etc. The ranks are well-led, well-manned, and ready for the big charge up the Hill.

Obstacles to Climate Legislation

Their first obstacle is that they do not have enough votes in the Senate to pass a climate law. The Republican forces are just large enough to block the passage of new laws. The EPA is trying to find a regulatory route around this blockage, but that is years in court away. The threat of regulating administratively under existing law is more of a feint than an attack. It’s designed to move the legislative battle, rather than to preemptively seek an administrative or judicial solution.

The second obstacle is that there is so much money on the table that the solons, bemused by the dollars, may not be able to write a passable bill. When climate change quietly switched from an environmental measure to a multi-trillion-dollar revenue game—namely greenhouse gas derivatives—everything changed. Congress is all about moving money; everybody wants some of the greenbacks for their constituents. The generals are now fighting among themselves for the spoils of political warfare.

The third obstacle is that the national economy is broken. The Democrats have already committed an enormously scary sum trying to fix it. The political force to fight for a massive tax on electricity may already be spent. Complex efforts to channel some of the trillions back to the ratepayers add to the confusion. Whether or not the greenhouse gasaholics impress the electricity-loving voters remains to be seen.

Trying not to call something that moves this much money around a tax is the funniest part of the political game at this point. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, squawks like a duck, and poops like a duck . . .

Science is a wild card. The global climate has not warmed for 10 years. Solar activity is at an extreme low, suggesting that global cooling, not warming, may be the real threat. But Congress, like textbooks, is decades behind in science, so this fact-on-the-ground may not matter.

International Complications

Complicating it all is the international front, where things are about the same with one big difference—China. China’s position has never changed; they will do anything we (the West) want to fight climate change as long as we (the West) pay for it. If we want it and pay for it, they will make it. If not, fugetaboutit.

The rest of the developing world, particularly India, has lined up beside the Chinese. The financial flows, as they are called (follow the money), have been estimated by the United Nations to be about $200 billion per year. The trillions thrown globally at economic stimulus have made it all seem plausible, although Americans stimulating the Chinese economy is not a well-publicized part of the plan.

In political warfare, according to the gurus of combat, a draw is a loss for those seeking radical change. Right now it is all a draw, but the battle has not really begun.

On paper, the fighting is all supposed to be over by December, in Copenhagen, when the green troops will come home for Christmas. History teaches that wars often take longer than planned. Don’t count on anything definitive from the latest Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in December. The troops won’t be home by Christmas.

—David Wojick, PhD and PE, is a Virginia-based energy consultant who focuses on information flow and structure and global warming politics.