Now that energy and global warming have leaped into the political mainstream, lots of reporters who aren’t knowledgeable on either subject are writing and blogging on it.  And that means we can expect a lot of dubious sloppy suboptimal reporting by people who are more interested in the personality drama and traditional politics than in digging into the substance of this “new” issue — see Media stunner: When asked “Does it matter, from a journalistic point of view, whether [Freeman Dyson is] right or whether he’s wrong?” his NYT profiler replies “Oh, absolutely not.”

It also means we are going to get a lot of reporting on the subject from political experts who don’t understand that this issue has unusual politics:

  • We have “moderate” Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Charlie Crist embrace strong statewide climate action comparable to Waxman-Markey, but you can’t get a single GOP House member or more than a couple of GOP Senators to support such action.
  • You can have some traditionally progressive Congressional Democrats in certain regions who do not immediately embrace strong action.

The motivation for this post is NBC’s political blog, First Read, in which Chuck Todd attacked the Center for American Progress (Action Fund) for a press release, which I reprinted here, over this phrase:

Five moderate Democrats announced their support for ACES, including John Dingell (MI), Gene Green (TX), Bobby Rush (IL), Bart Gordon (TN) and G.K. Butterfield (NC)….

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This caused Todd, who apparently needs to fill up space in his blog just like the rest of us — although he has a day job as NBC Political Director –  to go ballistic:

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Did I read this right? Did CAP call John Dingell and former black panther Bobby Rush “moderates”? Take a look at their vote ratings from the National Journal (Dingell and Rush [subs. req’d]), it’s hard to call them moderates; Gordon, Green and Butterfield are probably definitional moderates, considering the states and districts they come from, but Dingell and Rush, come on. Maybe on the energy issue, as far as CAP’s concerned, Dingell is a “moderate” since he’s always been on the side of the auto industry on key emissions votes. But should CAP really call these two moderates? Stuff like this in official press releases can immediately cost folks credibility with readers of said releases.

Yes, Chuck, “maybe” on the climate issue they are moderate.  And this isn’t “as far as CAP’s concerned” — it comes straight from an objective, independent analysis of “Projected Vote Breakdown For Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act,” from E&E News, which put those 5 members into the “Maybe” category (see list at end of “Follow the money: Global warming polluters pay to undermine Waxman-Markey clean energy bill“).

I don’t think any reader of this blog or anyone who follows energy and climate issues closely would wince at the use of the word “moderate” for Dingell on this issue.  He has been one of the great obstructionists of action on making our automobiles more fuel-efficient and less polluting.

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Perhaps “fence-sitting Democrats” or “Democrats who are moderate on climate” might have been a tad better, but this press release hardly deserves the harsh attack from Todd.

Does it “immediately cost folks credibility”?  Hmm.  Here is what Todd writes in his post:

The tea leaves continue to tell me that the likelihood of an energy bill that includes cap-n-trade won’t happen this year. Instead, smaller chunks on the energy front will be tackled as trying to get both health care and energy through this Congress is a lot to ask.

Well, that is a bit confusing.  The first sentence refers to passing an energy bill with cap-and-trade “this year.”  I have been blogging for months that that won’t happen (see, for instance, “(Reid: Senate to wait for House cap-and-trade bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news).”  So we don’t need to read any tea leaves.

But the second sentence refers to “trying to get both health care and energy through this Congress.”  This Congress lasts through next year, as Todd knows.

Pretty darn confusing, no?  Stuff like this in an official blog post can immediately cost folks credibility with readers of said blog posts.

If Todd is making the obvious statement that we won’t get comprehensive climate legislation this year, well that’s obvious.  But if he is suggesting that we’re not going to get cap-and-trade at all this Congress, well, I just don’t think he follows the issue close enough to make that judgment.

I think he’s wrong.  I think we’ll get a cap-and-trade this Congress.  And we’ll see whether my political judgment is better than that of NBC’s political director.

One final point.  Todd ends with:

Of course, this actually is a good reminder of how Democrats are still struggling with how to ideologically define themselves. There’s a big movement to change the word “liberal” to “progressive” and of course, many a Democrat likes the idea of being called a “moderate” even if they won’t utter the word themselves. But how to define Democrats, particularly Congressional Democrats: should they be in three boxes: liberal/progressive, moderate and conservative? Are they in two boxes: liberal/progressive and moderate? Actually, it’s a good challenge to you folks in comment land.

Actually, I think the more interesting issue is how global warming is changing the political landscape.  Climate science, as it were, has gotten more “progressive” in the sense that the reality of climate science and increasing greenhouse gas emissions has vindicated the positions of progressive climate science activists and clearly requires stronger action than was contemplated even a few years ago (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“).

In short, the scientific reality should have shifted to the debate to the left, even if most DC politicians and journalists have not caught up to this shift.  So journalists that are viewed as “moderate” — like David Broder — are now “center right” if not “conservative” in their climate views (see “David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming“).  And the anti-science “conservative” Republicans have become Rush Limbaugh extremists (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?“) who are filling up YouTube with the most absurd comments (see House GOP leader Boehner on ABC: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.”)

Outside of Washington politics and media, the debate has clearly shifted, as evidenced by GOP Governors like Schwarzenegger and Crist, and by the corporate support for climate action, which is a key reason we are poised to get a cap-and-trade bill.  As Obama said in his radio address Saturday:  “For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.”

If only the status-quo DC media could move beyond the old political labels to the new scientific reality.