9 damned good reasons why some U.S. environmentalists should heartily oppose Waxman-Markey
Too bad we live in interesting times, it requires much more work. I just read a comment from Randy Cunningham, who said he was torn between supporting Waxman-Markey, based on appeals to his brain, and opposing it, based on what he feels in his heart. I empathize with the feeling of being torn between two less-the-ideal choices, but I think that Randy’s got his organs mixed up.
Reflexive anti-corporatist/leftists aside, it seems to me that the only basis on which Waxman-Markey ought to be opposed is sharply reasoned, while a hefty part of supporting Waxman-Markey — the best we can do at this late date with good people in office — is the wish that somehow it can be made effective, or that things aren’t as bad as they seem, both appeals of the heart. We are all operating here on hope and a tougher strategic nut to crack than anyone has faced.
In that spirit (and because I think the anti-Waxman-Markey case has been given a short shrift), I’d like to offer 9 damned good reasons why some U.S. environmentalists should heartily oppose Waxman-Markey, even though it’s the best we can hope for in Congress.
1. Waxman-Markey just plain sucks and we would be fools to not fight about that fact within our own ranks. I’ve no intention of trying to add to the volumes of data and policy being tossed around on the finer points of the bill. The bottom line is clear enough from any cursory summary: 450 ppm isn’t good, the U.S. ought to be calling for 300-350 ppm; the bill as presently written doesn’t even have a hope of getting us to 450 ppm if it becomes the model for the world (all those offsets, way too late implementation, dropping GFC’s and so on); and — please stretch a bit here — let’s not forget that cap-and-trade was the worst of a bad lot that everyone now touting it used to oppose, for excellent reasons. If we are intellectually honest, then there are more than enough reasons to disagree with the majority opinion here.
2. When did it become a principle that U.S. environmentalists should all be of one mind anyway? The whole reason we don’t have an Federation of U.S. Environmental Organizations is that we don’t and won’t march in lock step. The downside is that it’s hard for us to ever concentrate resources, energy and attention on problems bigger than any one organization or temporary coalition can handle — a big reason we are in the fix we are now in — but now is not the time to try and change that, because now is the time that not having a Federation has certain advantages. Such as …
3. Waxman-Markey is more likely to be strengthened in the Senate if there is a left flank of environmentalists attacking it (in military terms, not political) than by a united but lukewarm front. This is true even if environmentalist opponents’ forces are relatively weak (a position opponents would have to build up from paltry to achieve), because the media, as we know from long years of being flummoxed by a mere handful of climate “skeptics,” loves symmetry in conflict. Without a flank of opposition, Waxman-Markey is the extreme in the familiar story of goo-goo liberalism vs. penny-pinching conservatism.
4. Opposition to Waxman-Markey affords us an opportunity to rectify our grievous errors in organizing and campaign strategy of the last 15 years. We are where we are, despite years of lead time and billions of dollars in our war chest, because we tried to sneak a climate-change solution into place without having to undergo trial by fire. That was a mistake and now we pay for it, but that doesn’t mean we ought not to be trying new ways of mobilizing supporters, attacking opponents and rewriting the public story. None of those things are going to happen (much) within the mainstream campaign for Waxman-Markey, which can do no more at this stage than muster such support as we have already in hand. Whatever new sources of aggressive climate action are mustered will be within opposition to Waxman-Markey, which nonetheless adds to our power overall, no matter that we are presently in conflict.
5. As co-coordinator of the 350.org coalition in Massachusetts, Craig Altemose argues well and passionately that Waxman-Markey forfeits the moral high ground and it would be best for at least part of our movement to stay there. As we edge nearer the abyss, the questions of who lives and who dies, who pays and what do we owe other species and future generations, cease to be theoretical. If most U.S. environmentalists feel that it is time to abandon the fight for a guaranteed, functional solution, so be it, but it is in all our interest that some continue an emphatic call that this must be stopped without compromise.
6. There’s a big difference between abrupt climate change and incremental climate change, the heart of the 350 vs. 450 positions, and this keeps getting lost in the shuffle here. Waxman-Markey won’t avert cataclysm. Therefore, it is reasonable that it should be opposed, as should any weak measure, because we don’t have time for multiple rounds of governmental action.
7. Similarly, there is a vast difference between abrupt political change and incremental reform. Waxman-Markey represents the best that we can get out of incremental reform, but that doesn’t mean we should give up all hope of a sweeping, last-minute drive by humanity to save our collective asses (probably driven by early catastrophes). Those who prefer to hold out hope for abrupt political change have no choice but to oppose Waxman-Markey.
8. It’s not Waxman-Markey or nothing. Failure to pass federal legislation will put immense pressure on the Obama administration to go forward with regulating carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, instead of merely posturing to help move legislation. Compared head to head, I’d rather tackle the problem under the Clean Air Act, with the president forced to articulate the case, than under a porous new law.
9. I suppose this is merely a distillation of the above, but it still deserves a separate point, I think. The climate core, the 3% of the U.S. population who are haunted by climate change, dismiss U.S. environmentalists as hopelessly compromised. In countless meetings and discussions over the last several months, I have found it striking that the people driven to action — which is necessarily groping as there is little being offered them to do — do not bother to refute U.S. environmentalists’ position; they simply ignore it.