Politics

Yang Jiechi on China's response to global warming

Bush-like doubletalk from Chinese foreign minister

The Foreign Minister of China, Yang Jiechi, gave a talk at CGI that would have made President Bush -- or Frank Luntz -- proud. Brian may have liked the rhetoric, but I (and a number of others I spoke to in NY) thought the comments were divorced from reality, pure spin. You can judge for yourself from the entire transcript, which I will excerpt and comment on here because I think the speech is much more important and ominous than Bush's recent climate speech. After all, Bush will be gone soon, but if this speech reflects China's view of the climate problem, we are all in deep, deep trouble. Yang says: A review of history shows that climate change occurs in the course of development. It is both an environment issue and a development issue. But ultimately, it is a development issue. Uh, not really. He presumably meant to say "rising greenhouse gases (GHGs)" instead of "climate change." And he presumably means to imply that you can't have development without climate change/GHGs.

U.S. EPA is bad at environmental protection

Shocking, shocking news can be discerned from U.S. EPA and Justice Department data: the EPA is totally slacking on cracking down on polluters.

An interview with John McCain about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside. John McCain. Photo: hatch1921 John McCain likes to project a tough-guy stance on the issues, and global warming is no exception. “Americans solve problems. We don’t run from them,” he’s quoted as saying on the environment page of his website, which goes on to argue that “ignoring the problem reflects a ‘liberal, live for today’ attitude unworthy of our great country.” McCain has earned the right to put his own conservative spin on the fight against climate change. The first high-profile Republican to …

U.S. food aid low, getting lower

The U.S. donates more food internationally than any other country, but shipping costs and rising food prices (thanks, biofuels!) have contributed to its lowest level of donation in a decade. The situation is likely to get worse: the appropriations bill moving through Congress contains no significant increases in the U.S. food aid budget, and the United Nations estimates that low-income countries will see a 14 percent jump in the price of grain imports next year. A restriction in the farm bill requires food aid to be shipped from the U.S.; in a rare proposal aligned with green values, the Bush …

A look at John McCain’s environmental platform and record

Updated 22 Aug 2008 John McCain has a mixed record on the environment, but he’s long been outspoken about global warming. He introduced the first major bill in the Senate to address it: the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, cosponsored with Joe Lieberman. In May 2008, he unveiled a new plan for tackling the problem, a cap-and-trade system with a series of targets for gradually reducing carbon emissions to 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The plan would give away many pollution credits instead of auctioning them off, and would give polluting entities expansive leeway to buy …

British Columbia premier announces climate plan

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has announced a vague plan for reducing the province’s greenhouse-gas emissions by a third by 2020. The plan includes requiring all government agencies to be carbon neutral by 2010, factoring in employee travel; institution of a local carbon-offset provider; installation of residential and commercial smart meters to encourage energy conservation; and emissions caps on industries. Critics of the plan asked what the plan is, exactly, as Campbell provided few new, specific details.

Reshaping market economies

A reply to Shellenberger & Nordhaus

It’s rare for any environmental book to receive the attention garnered by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s Break Through, particularly outside the usual green circles. Anything that prompts conversation on these issues is, in and of itself, a good thing. So one hesitates to point out that beneath all the hype — the "death" of this, the "fundamental break" from that — the book’s arguments are fairly modest. Banal even. The word from the "bad boys of environmentalism" is that environmentalists should be more positive and support greater public investment in clean energy technology. Well … OK. The argument about …

DOE hasn’t opened Yucca nuclear-waste dump, must pay millions for breach of contract

As if the saga of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain wasn’t ridiculous enough, a court has ruled that the Department of Energy’s failure to open the nuclear-waste repository on time will have a price tag of $116.5 million, payable to Xcel Energy for breach of contract. And just to remind you of the ridiculousness, in the words of Minnesota State Senator Ellen Anderson: “[E]ven if Yucca Mountain does open, which I’m very skeptical it will, there is no reason to believe it will take our waste away. This problem is one that I don’t expect to be solved in my lifetime.”

Putting your inner political superego on hold

A utopian realist agenda

Recently Nordhaus and Shellenberger (N&S) posted on Gristmill, wrote in The New Republic, and published a book, all with the aim of offering a better alternative to the mainstream environmental agenda. In my estimation, they made three important points: Americans would respond to a positive vision of the future; global warming can only be solved if, in addition to regulatory policies, we embark on a program of public investment; and the public is quite open to the idea of public investment. Unfortunately, they didn't do much with that great start. I think I know why: the central thrust of the conservative movement since Reagan has been to inculcate the idea of "government bad, market good," and the idea of making a virtue of public investment runs totally counter to a conservative world view. So in order to be politically relevant, N&S look to the two institutions that conservatives and moderates have been able to agree are legitimate sources of public investment: the Pentagon and government-supported R&D. But that "won't work," as N&S declare about the possibility of mitigating global warming with a regulations-only policy framework. To be brief, the Pentagon is part of the problem, not part of the solution; and while R&D is always a good idea, the level of their combined program is only $30 billion per year, which would be great in this political climate but won't do much for the global climate. These negatives shouldn't blind us to their advocacy of a positive vision and a public investment approach. One of the reasons public investment is not discussed more often in the environmental community, much less taken seriously as a policy approach, is that we have what I will call the problem of the political superego: before any such policy can even be considered by the conscious mind, the political superego dismisses it out of hand. Which leads me to two of my favorite quotes: "The maximum that seems politically feasible still falls far short of the minimum that would be effective in solving the crisis," spoken by Al Gore at a policy address at NYU in 2006. The other, by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, the authors of Our Ecological Footprint: "In today's materialistic, growth-bound world, the politically acceptable is ecologically disastrous while the ecologically necessary is politically impossible." I want to use the phrase "utopian realism" to express this dilemma, and to point to a possible way out of it. The word "realist" means that the policies advocated are a realistic way out of our global crises, from a technical point of view. "Utopian" has two meanings here -- first, that the political chances of these policies being implemented seem utopian; but second, that the implementation of these goals could inspire action. (The sociologist Anthony Giddens has also used the term "utopian realism", in a roughly similar way.) So I ask you to try to keep your political superego at bay for a few paragraphs, as I lay out a possible positive vision of public investment.

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