Examining John Dingell’s about-face on climate change

New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt examines a question that David and I have enjoyed disagreeing about (or at least that I've enjoyed disagreeing with David about) for a couple of months now: Is John Dingell sincere about tackling climate change, or is he pulling old tricks? Leonhardt recounts the tale of Dingell's efforts to block fuel-economy standards introduced by former Sen. Richard Bryan a couple of decades ago by introducing a bill that would have created a nuclear waste dump in Bryan's home state of Nevada. Are we seeing that type of tactic again, albeit in slightly different form? I still go back and forth on this. On the one hand, Dingell talks a good game to the press. On the other, what's really important is for him to whip up support among his colleagues for his carbon-tax proposal. The congressional aides I've talked to about this take stances ranging from "we don't trust him" to "we never know what he's really thinking" to "we believe he's out to axe real progress" to "it's too early to say." Time, as the kids are fond of saying, will tell. Leonhardt writes, "If nothing else, it's also enormously useful that Mr. Dingell is no longer suggesting, as he did just eight months ago, that the scientific consensus on global warming may be a 'great error.'" It would be fascinating to figure out how Dingell came around, if he in fact has. And he certainly would like us to believe he has: After the town hall meeting [which Dingell had called to discuss climate change] was over -- and he had listened to a couple of hours of questions about timed traffic lights, nuclear power and the possibility of impeaching President Bush -- Mr. Dingell sat down in a dark area behind the stage. I asked him whether Mr. Gore, who has been both a Dingell nemesis and ally at various times, had been right for all those years he was pointing out what was happening to the earth's climate. "I think a cold statement on that point would be yes," Mr. Dingell replied. And would it have been easier to solve the problem if we had started earlier? "What's the saying? The saddest words in the English language -- 'might have been.'"

Upgrading capitalism's operating system

A review of Peter Barnes’ Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons

Peter Barnes' Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (also available as a free PDF at Barnes' site) suggests that flaws in capitalism lie at the root of the environmental and social problems we face today; his solution, as a retired corporate CEO, is not to discard capitalism, but fix those flaws.

Edwards & the mine workers union

How does Edwards’ union support mesh with his ambitious climate-change platform?

John Edwards' bid for union support seems to finally be paying off for him -- yesterday, his campaign won the support of the steelworkers and mine workers unions. Which raises an important question: To what extent is Edwards' support for mine workers (and their support for him) incompatible with his climate-change platform? Edwards was the first of the Democratic hopefuls to put forth an ambitious climate-change plan (perhaps inspiring slightly more ambitious offerings from Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson), and he remains the only one of the three leading contenders to have made addressing climate change a priority -- we've heard standard platitudes from Hillary Clinton, and a series of confused and incrementalist proposals from Barack Obama. So I asked the Edwards campaign if supporting coal miners is at odds with supporting the human race (of which coal is an enemy, as we at Grist are fond of reiterating). They sent me the following statement:

Judge issues ruling protecting delta smelt, restricting California water access

For years, environmentalists have blamed the rapidly dwindling smelt population in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta on huge pumps that dispense water throughout southern California, but also suck in and kill huge numbers of the endangered fish. To protect the smelt, a species unique to the delta, a federal judge issued a far-reaching ruling Friday imposing limits on water diversion from the delta. State water officials say the ruling by Judge Oliver Wanger (heh heh) could cut the amount of withdrawn water by around one-third, restricting water access to 750,000 acres of cropland and a thirsty SoCal population 25 million …

Give Bush some (perverse) credit for emissions drop

Spike in gasoline prices is partially due to Bush’s weak energy policy

The Washington Post reported that President Bush made the following claim at a fundraiser: Do you realize that the United States is the only major industrialized nation that cut greenhouse gases last year? The Post noted immediately that the White House "was unable to substantiate the claim" because they really don't know what other industrialized nations have done. But does Bush deserve any credit for the unusual U.S. drop in emissions? I say yes, but only in a perverse way -- his failed energy policy (and the failed reconstruction of the Iraqi oil industry) helped set the stage for sharply increased gasoline prices in 2006, which moderated oil consumption. The White House claims that "progress is due in part to natural causes, innovation and market forces, and emerging federal, state and local policies." Uh, how do "emerging federal policies" change anything? Answer: they don't until they actually emerge, which for this administration will be pretty much never.

Pacific Rim nations meet to consider climate, unlikely to do much

If you haven’t had your fill of anticlimactic climate meetings, hark: climate is at the top of the agenda at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Sydney this week. APEC’s 21 members — Pacific Rim countries including the U.S., China, and Australia — together consume about 60 percent of the world’s energy, and thus are big players in global climate-affecting. But don’t expect anything too ambitious out of Sydney: according to a draft statement obtained by Greenpeace, APEC members may adopt wording supporting voluntary “measurable and verifiable contributions to meeting shared global goals.” Then again, one foreign ministry official predicts …

We won't even help our own

For mitigation over adaptation: the argument from cynicism

The second anniversary of Katrina has passed, marked by me only with craven silence. There are three Katrina tidbits I wanted to pass along, though, as they are germane to the argument over whether humanity can or should adapt to ongoing climate change. The first is from a year ago. Jim Rusch, who was then acting governor of Idaho and who is likely to take over Larry Craig’s recently vacated Senate seat, said this: Here in Idaho, we couldn’t understand how people could sit around on the kerbs waiting for the federal government to come and do something. We had …

So long, Larry

Larry Craig’s environmental legacy was dismal, but his successor’s might be better

Larry Craig. Photo: senate.gov In keeping with the classy GOP tradition -- out with the gay and in with the new -- Sen. Larry Craig is now history. But, expanding on Tom's post, it's worth keeping in mind that his brown legacy extends well past his much-lampooned arrest in an airport toilet. The New West Network has a fairly encyclopedic rundown of the many ways in which Larry Craig obstructed legislation that was friendly to the environment and advanced measures detrimental to it. Some highlights: Craig supported offshore drilling, supported drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, obstructed appropriations to, among other programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, promoted the transportation of nuclear weapons to Yucca Mountain for storage therein, deappropriated funds intended to count the dwindling population of salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, trounced efforts to raise public land grazing fees, and attempted to deregulate big timber. It's quite a record -- all the more worth mentioning because some of the names being tossed around as potential replacements present such an enormous opportunity for improvement.

Post-Labor Day link dump, the second

Exploring the tubes so you don’t have to

Mo’ links! Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland Ohio recently passed a renewable portfolio standard that falls prey to the worst pitfalls of that particular policy mechanism: Gov. Ted Strickland wants to require that 25 percent of the electricity sold in Ohio by 2025 come from alternative energies, such as fuel cells, solar panels, windmills, nuclear and hydroplants. Half of that would have to come from renewable energy while the other half would come from nuclear, fuel cells or clean coal sources. The point of RPSs should be to boost renewable energy technology. If the point of this jerry-rigged contraption is to …

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