In last month’s print edition of The American Prospect, Chris Mooney had an article called "This will mean the world to us," about what a new president and Congress could and should do on climate change. The editors asked me to write a letter in response, which is in this month’s issue.
It’s semi-on the web here, but I think you have to be a subscriber to read it. Here’s the full, pre-edited version:
In his otherwise astute survey of the political landscape around climate change, Chris Mooney takes a puzzling tone toward the advocates and activists who have so effectively pushed the issue forward in the last few years. They have driven positions that once resided on the political fringe to the center of the climate debate. All the momentum is moving in their direction. Yet Mooney scolds them for asking too much. Warns them not to overreach. Urges them to be "pragmatic."
I wonder how many energy industry lobbyists or right-wing think tankers are hearing the same thing from their pundits. My guess is zero. It is only progressives who suffer from the peculiar compulsion to compromise on their core values before the fight has even begun in earnest.
And make no mistake: on the question of auctioning permits under a cap-and-trade system, core values are at stake. If pollution permits are auctioned, the revenue can be used to offset the impact on middle- and working-class Americans. If the permits are given away to large polluters, the policy will amount to a large, regressive tax. While that may be "pragmatic" in a narrow, short-term sense, it is grossly impractical in the long-term. It purchases the support of large polluters at the expense of broad public support — an unsustainable situation. Only if the costs and benefits are broadly shared will a climate policy prove durable.
Politicians frequently must compromise. That is their job. It is not our job. For those of us who understand the gravity of the climate crisis, the job is to push, and keep pushing.