And if lawmakers delay the passage of this bill to avoid a political battle, they run into another problem: the most important climate event in a decade, the Copenhagen Summit coming in December, which Obama will attend along with representatives of 175 nations. That's when the world will try to forge a new international agreement, as the old Kyoto Protocols (which the US never ratified) expire.
Former vice-president Al Gore, testifying two weeks ago at Markey's hearing, stressed the importance of getting the legislation done before Copenhagen, to move the US in line with other countries. With high-profile advocates like Gore leading them, Millennials are likely to view Copenhagen as a looming imperative.
Millennials' faith in international cooperation is extraordinarily high — whether applied to stopping genocide in Darfur, or willingness to sit down with rogue leaders — and is no different in this instance, according to those who study Millennial-generation political attitudes. "That's a very big deal," says della Volpe, "and that's never going to change. Without question."
Of course, that's also the Democrats' safety net for not mucking up this bill: Republicans these days loathe international cooperation, and are sure to make that known as Copenhagen approaches. "If one party is seen as impeding the United States' ability to take part in a multi-national approach," says Winogard, "it could be a nail in the coffin for Republican credibility among Millennials."
Republicans would be wise to avoid divisiveness on this issue, and some have tried. After all, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was an outspoken believer in the importance of fighting global warming — and even his more conservative running-mate, Sarah Palin, accepts the reality she sees all around her in Alaska.
"This has the potential to be completely bipartisan," says Suffolk University's Johnson. "It doesn't have to be ideological."
Republican leaders have a strategy for presenting a reasonable opposition to environment and energy reform. They intend to argue that the particular approach the Democrats are taking would be too costly. That's a reasonable argument to counter the Democrats' initiatives.
But the loosest cannons in the GOP — and they are legion — simply cannot stick with the game plan. How can they? Surveys show that solid majorities of Republicans believe that global warming is either a myth or, at most, a wildly overblown media creation. Those warming deniers control the party, and their elected officials can only go along with it.
As a result, prominent Republicans regularly spew inanities on climate change ready-made for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And it only gets worse when you move beyond the elected Republicans. The most popular conservative talk-show hosts, publications, bloggers, and pundits are almost unanimously dismissive of global warming, from columnist George F. Will, to Fox News superstar Glenn Beck, to bloggers at redstate.com.
After the recent EPA announcement on regulating greenhouse gases, Jonah Goldberg, National Review contributor, Fox News analyst, book author, and rising star of right-wing punditry, fumed on National Review Online, without irony, that "A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe" — as if, under the Clean Air Act, the federal government has not been doing exactly that for the past four decades.