Politics

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.

Why is Uncle Sam so committed to reviving nuclear power?

A guest essay from Peter Montague analyzes the nuclear ‘renaissance’

The following is a guest essay from Peter Montague, executive director of the Environmental Research Foundation. —– The long-awaited and much-advertised "nuclear renaissance" actually got under way this week. NRG Energy, a New Jersey company recently emerged from bankruptcy, applied for a license to build two new nuclear power plants at an existing facility in Bay City, Texas — the first formal application for such a license in 30 years. NRG Energy has no experience building nuclear power plants but they are confident the U.S. government will assure their success. "The whole reason we started down this path was the …

Fool me once ...

The real story behind the Bush administration’s climate claims

In preparation for the Major Economies Meeting, the Bush administration distributed a matrix to invited countries, to assist them in documenting their national and international efforts on climate change. The U.S. government circulated a draft documenting activities in the U.S., trying to give the impression that the U.S. is taking meaningful action on climate change. A number of environmental organizations have analyzed the claims in the U.S. matrix. Their analysis can be found in the shaded right hand column of this document, to help reporters understand the real story behind the administration’s claims. Groups contributing to this effort include: • …

The market isn't enough

Ted Nordhaus responds to NRDC’s Dave Hawkins

The following post is from Ted Nordhaus, responding to an essay from David Hawkins of the NRDC. —– David, You and I have always maintained a respectful relationship so I’ll pass on the name calling and just respond to the content of your response. You say, "the authors are wrong in their claim that we have to wait for new ‘breakthrough’ technologies before we can move away from dirty resources." You know this in not true. We have never suggested such a thing. We made clear in our book, we made clear in the New Republic excerpt, and we made …

The race to catch up

McKibben’s clarion call

Bill McKibben has a clarion call of an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post. The reality of climate change is moving much more quickly than politics: The Democratic majority is finally beginning to move legislation that would commit the United States to long-term reductions in carbon dioxide emissions — the first law Congress might actually pass in the years since global warming became an issue. But here, too, the legislative process is backing away from what science demands — a strong bill put forward by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is in danger of being supplanted by half-measures …

Roads with transit? No, thanks

The RTID package doesn’t give Seattle voters a fair choice

Those of us who live in and around Seattle will vote this November on a huge package that's being sold as "roads and transit." Stay with me -- it's complicated but important, and it could have implications for transit projects around the US. Of the $18 billion in the package, about $10 billion will pay for 50 miles of new light rail; the rest will pay for roads projects, including 152 new miles of general-purpose highways (and 74 miles of HOV). Because our state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, tied the two unrelated proposals together, rejecting roads means rejecting transit, and vice versa. Pro-transit supporters of the package (and there are lots of them) pretty much stop there. How, they argue, could we turn down the first opportunity we've had in a generation to more than double the region's light rail system? Yes, there are roads in the package -- including bad roads, like the four-lane widening of a major suburban freeway -- but a lot of those will actually help transit. Expanding SR-520 from Seattle to Bellevue, for  example, will create two new HOV lanes. And look at all that light rail! Shiny, shiny light rail. How could you say no to all that light rail? Well, let's look at what happens if this region does pass the joint roads and transit package. That will be our last chance to make a truly ambitious investment in transportation for a generation. It is, in other words, our last chance to do it right. As local Sierra Club chapter chairman Mike O'Brien told me, "It's not like we have pools of $18 billion just sitting around." If we pass this package, we'll have light rail, but we'll also be stuck paying for, and building, all those new roads -- roads that will just fill up, as roads do; roads that will contribute more to global warming than light rail takes away; roads that certainly won't be much help in easing congestion without a much larger investment in transit than the one in this package. And we'll send a message to transportation planners around the country: "It's OK to have transit, as long as you throw some new roads in there too." A better message would be: "People want transit, so why do you keep giving us *$%! roads?"

Meltdown

Boxer vs Inhofe, round 2: The Rumble in Rayburn

If you will recall, the first round of their schoolyard squabble, on the occasion of Inhofe's filibustering of Gore's attempts to answer his questions, ended with a crushing uppercut by Boxer: Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) finally intervened. "Would you agree to let the Vice President answer your questions?" Inhofe said Gore could respond when he was done talking, but Boxer wouldn't have it: "No, that isn't the rule. You're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. Elections have consequences. So I make the rules." The hearing audience applauded loudly. Politico has the details of the next round. This time, Boxer taps out and its Senator Mikulski that delivers the TKO, capping an Inhofe rant with: "It's more than the icecaps that are facing meltdown," begins Mikulski... Snap. Could it be that Inhofe is worrying about the title fight?

'Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah'

Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook

Bush has given us a new drinking game: Down a shot whenever the President uses the word "technology" in a climate speech. You'd get 19 shots for yesterday's 21 minute speech! As predicted, Bush closely follows the Frank Luntz playbook on how to seem like you care about the climate when you don't. Bush stated the basic do-nothing message well: Our investments in research and technology are bringing the world closer to a remarkable breakthrough -- an age of clean energy where we can power our growing economies and improve the lives of our people and be responsible stewards of the earth the Almighty trusted to our care. Translation: "If we had those technologies today, then maybe we could take genuine action now. But, darn it, people, we don't. We can't grow the economy and be responsible stewards of the earth quite yet. We are close, though, so be patient already and stop with all those calls for mandatory regulation. Sheesh!"

Bush climate summit: Greenwashing vs. myth-busting

Foreign media take a more discerning look at Bush’s climate meetings this week

Once again, the foreign media is not fooled by Bush's PR stunt, while the U.S. media buys the White House line. The U.K.'s The Independent labeled this a "Greenwashing Climate Summit" in its headline, and opened their story with: For the first time in 16 years, a major environmental conference opens in Washington, hosted by the Bush administration. But no concrete results are expected, and that -- say European participants -- is the point of this high-level meeting. Far from representing a Damascene conversion on climate change by President George Bush, the two-day gathering of the world's biggest polluting nations is aimed at undermining the UN's efforts to tackle global warming, say European sources. "The conference was called at very short notice," said one participant. "It's a cynical exercise in destabilising the UN process." So how does the AP puff piece on the summit begin?

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