Why does Washington DC have so many more deficit hawks than climate hawks?
The GOP is launching yet another massive assault on future generations today, proposing deep cuts in the clean energy solutions that are central to averting catastrophic climate change. Many of the ideas in the GOP’s ‘austerity budget for the poor and middle class’ are typically considered political suicide — like gutting Medicare. And they may yet prove to be suicidal if President Obama and progressives take them all on boldly.
I know — that’s a big IF. I’ll discuss the cuts later, but what is fascinating is that this deficit debate is now front and center at all in the midst of economic tough times.
This post was spurred by a recent post from the iconoclastic conservative (?) blogger Andrew Sullivan (who supported both Kerry and Obama). A few weeks ago, at the right-hand side of his page under his heading, “Sully’s recent keepers,” appeared a post that is definitely not worth keeping:
To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you’re fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama’s cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America’s fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.
The final sentence betrays him. No one in the punditocracy seriously thought he could change DC politics. That’s just something outsiders promise to win the votes of independents while they preach policy to their base.
More to the point, as problems facing American’s youth, the deficit is certainly a significant concern. But it is only a long-term concern. Young people obviously have far more immediate concerns, paying for their education, getting a job, and so on.
Yet as a long-term concern it pales in comparison with the threat caused by human-caused climate change, which is rapidly approaching irreversibility and will devastate the lives of billions of people, for many decades if not centuries (see Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s! and A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice).
Moreover, we could do very little about the deficit for a decade or more and still address the problem in a simple and straightforward (albeit painful) fashion in the 2020s. But doing very little about climate change for a decade or more makes averting multiple catastrophes infinitely more complicated.
And yet most political thought leaders make countless pronouncements about the dangers of deficits while remaining either uneducated or willfully ignorant on climate (see Some pundits challenge my statement, “Future generations are likely to view Obama’s choice of health care over energy and climate legislation as a blunder of historic proportions”).
Fundamentally, policymakers don’t get it when it comes to climate change, but arguably they don’t get it when it comes to most issues. What drives the obsession with deficits is that the GOP uses deficits as a stalking horse for eviscerating government. The public doesn’t actually care much about deficits, except in economic hard times, when conservatives are able to conflate our economic problems with our deficit problem — and when progressives are too feckless to stand up for the importance of government spending, and especially government investment, to both short-term and long-term economic health.
Finally, the media sees its role as promoters of good government, narrowly defined. That is, the punditocracy feels big deficits are inherently a sign of bad government, so they legitimize the debate and the “courage” of those who propose politically untenable solutions to the deficit.
Since most of the DC punditocracy doesn’t understand the dire climate situation, they just treatit as one more political issue that, right now, seems to be a loser. Ironically, if Sullivan himself understand climate, he’d realize that the next generation isn’t being screwed by our lack of a deficit policy, it’s being screwed by our lack of a climate policy (see The failed presidency of Barack Obama).