Watching the remains of a movement strain our every organizational fiber to advance a climate bill we know is a travesty reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s observation about sex: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable. Waxman-Markey ought to be opposed by U.S. environmentalists for obvious and pragmatic reasons — street arguments, if you like. In the topsy-turvy world of U.S. climate advocacy, however, political lessons wrung from decades of hard experience have been turned inside out, so that down feels like up and wrong is the new right. Our descent into an Alice-in-Wonderland politics took …
Very interesting, very positive response from 200+ at American Friends Service Committee conference on the triple threats of security, economy and climate to blunt assessment of the state of climate change and climate politics. Another strong indicator that our organizations are fast losing touch.
As an upstart state rep from Malden, Mass, Ed Markey had the temerity to support rules reform, which got him kicked him out of his office by Speaker Tom McGee. Markey set up desk, chair and phone in the statehouse hallway and burnished an image of integrity which vaulted him to the top of a crowded Congressional primary field – running under the slogan, “They can tell Ed Markey where to sit, but no one tells him where to stand” – to capture the Congressional seat he still holds. When he hit DC in 1976, his patron, House Speaker Tip …
After ducking the matter for a decade, U.S. environmental organizations finally pulled together a climate policy, but the National Call to Action on Global Warming issued by 53 organizations on March 5 is a mistake and should be reconsidered. The National Call contains key elements that have been startlingly absent from our efforts to date — an assessment of climate risk, bright-line definition of solution, and a platform — but in attempting to thread a path between fundamentally irreconcilable political worldviews, the groups have fashioned a pushmepullyou compromise that will not gain us the traction we now require and squanders …
If we accept the worst, or precautionary assessment, then U.S. environmentalists have perhaps a year to avert cataclysm, and nothing we are doing now will work. We are dealing with this terrible situation in a very ordinary and human way: by denying it. Our denial comes in a variety of forms: we believe that President Obama can and will solve the problem; we ignore Jim Hansen's assessment and timeline; we concentrate on our jobs and organization agendas and pass over the big picture; we focus on the molehill of climate policy rather than tackle the mountain of climate politics; we assess our efforts by looking back on how far we have come and do not measure the distance still to be traveled; we scrupulously avoid criticizing each other, lacking conviction in our own courses of action and not wishing to invite criticism in turn; and we are irrationally committed to antique approaches that are self-evidently inadequate. In our hearts we know that what we are doing is futile, but we do not know what else we should or could be doing. The constraints within which we work feel so intractable and out of human scale that we cannot imagine how to break them. Despite our best efforts, Americans just don't seem to get it or they don't care, and we are at a loss to explain this. Unable to influence our own nation, we are further dismayed by the far vaster challenge of altering the trajectory of China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world. Nothing we now confront should be a surprise. We have known for more than thirty years that the world was bound to reach this state (with twenty years specific warning on climate). The purpose of environmentalism was to alter the self-destructive parabola of growth by introducing new values and sensibilities, which, as has been clear for some time, we have manifestly failed to do. We are the ones who warned the world what was to come and we are the custodians of the only true solution, yet our current best ideas amount to no more than fiddling with the dials of corporate capitalism (cap-and-trade) and gussying up environmental policy as one item on the domestic progressive agenda (green jobs). We do not seem capable of taking even the most elementary steps to extricate ourselves from the trap in which we find ourselves. Why, for example, have we never convened a general conference of environmental leadership to consider what to do, or formed an association bigger than the sum of our parts? Why do we not spend some of the billions in our control to experiment with new approaches and campaigning (or support those already doing so)? Why is there no internal debate or discussion other than a quarrelsome wrangling over the minutia of policy?
Checking out the statements of candidates for the Sierra Club national board, I was disappointed to find no champions for vigorous climate action, so in an idle moment I drafted answers to the Candidate Questionnaire from the sort of candidate for whom I'd like to cast my vote. Q. What leadership positions have you held in the Sierra Club, and what have you accomplished in those positions?
A questionnaire for Powershifters -- click for larger version It is a strange but not uncommon experience for youth to hear veterans of the 1960s disparage protest. Youthful protest, it is implied, can never hope to achieve the cultural and political breakthroughs of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam era; it's nothing more than nostalgic play-acting by those too young to know what the '60s were all about and too naive to understand a changed and nuanced world, where simplistic slogans and confrontational tactics are at best a waste of time and probably do more harm than good. This is hogwash. What power environmentalists do have was wrested from a complacent society by determined, principled confrontation, and this is spent rather than increased by polite advocacy. It is also worth noting that the peak of environmental protest was the surge of Greenpeace USA led actions in the early 1980s. The strength of public commitment to environmental action and climate crisis intervention (as opposed to the breadth of public opinion, a fickle product of ADD mass-media news cycles) is directly proportional to our conviction and moral clarity -- for which protest, or the lack thereof, serves as a convenient civic barometer. Without thinking about it, most Americans gauge how bad things are by whether there are people in the streets (or Zodiacs).
I perused the Green Budget 2010 released last week by a large group of U.S. environmental organizations, including EDF, LCV, NRDC, NWF and WWF. Unable to find a total cost figure for the wish list of federal programs it includes, I assumed this omission stemmed from hesitancy to draw attention to a hefty price tag. After toting up the numbers, this seems not to be the case. The total cost of the Green 2010 budget is $74 billion, just $4 billion more than the FY 2008 Bush administration budget reference. This is a diddly amount, not even a small down payment on returning environmental programs to parity with pre-Bush administration levels, let alone commensurate with the scale of the terrible risk before us. The Green 2010 budget deals almost entirely in environmental line items, parsing each federal program as if it were operating in isolation, never addressing the fundamental question of what is required of the federal government. Incremental policy being our raison d'Ãªtre, this is not a surprise, but the failure to propose obvious budget solutions, such as shifting all fossil fuel subsidies to renewables (what ever happened to Green Scissors?) is perplexing. Nor do important political questions, such as the degree to which particular governmental agencies are beholden to given interests, seem to enter the equation. I took a whack at constructing a "true green" 2010 budget (using a spreadsheet available here), coming up with a total of $273 billion, which still seems a little light, but in the right the ballpark.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead (1901-1978) Almost every environmental organization uses this quote at some point. Mead's organizing truth is comforting to those laboring in the activist vineyards, but it is almost precisely opposite the actual approach we have taken, which would more appropriately be written ... It goes without saying that a small group of thoughtful, committed program officers and professional staff can mold public opinion and shift voting patterns, which should change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing liberals have ever been known to do. Recent polls show an abrupt decline in public support for environmentalism and concern about global warming, which undercuts the two central assumptions of US environmentalist strategy: our main audience is the general public, to whom we must present a watered down climate story, and our natural base of support is liberal Democrats. Public support for protecting the environment, according to the recent Pew Center for People & the Press poll fell "precipitously," from 56 to 41 percent in one year, while global warming continued its downward slide, from 38 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2008 and 30 percent this year. Most striking, support for environmental protection by liberal Democrats dropped 17 percent, from 74 to 57 percent, roughly the same rate as Republicans, down 19 percent, and independents, at 15 percent, and significantly higher than the 9 percent drop among moderate Democrats.
We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.