Some clarifications and such
Several issues and questions have come up around the URGE2 concept, most of which I anticipated but was too lazy to write about on my first post. Forthwith, a few notes, caveats, and explanations.
First, remember this is conceived as a communication device, not a complete or ideal description of green policy utopia. It has to meet a few requirements:
- It has to be broad enough to lure the support of many green constituencies.
- It has to be specific enough to yield real lobbying and policy guidance.
- It has to be simple and memorable enough to stick in people’s heads.
I worry quite a bit about greens on this score.
You’ve got the wonks, with their chart-laden analysis and 50-point Perfect Policy Plans. You’ve got the seasoned campaigners, patrolling the halls of state and federal legislatures, haggling over provision C4sub2 of some obscure regulation. You’ve got the dirty hippies, talking dreamily about changing the human soul and scrapping capitalism. And you’ve got scattered advocates raising alarms that we’re all fucked if we don’t get working.
I love all those people, truly I do, and there’s a little of each in me. But what’s conspicuously missing from that crowd is people focusing specifically on a simple policy agenda that’s easy to rally public support around and easy to communicate to policymakers — one that can provide not only immediate advice, but mid- and long-term policy guidance as well.
This is the kind of thing that virtually all conservatives trained in the College Republicans and rightwing think tanks do. They view their roles as academics or researchers or dreamers as secondary. Most of all they’re trying to push public policy in their direction.
Greens, for whatever reason, have lost their mojo on this score (though groups like the Apollo Alliance and 25×25 are groping in the right direction). Pushing public policy in your direction means more than choosing what you like and cheerleading for it. It means assessing the landscape, finding pressure points, finding trends that need to be counteracted, finding overlooked pieces of the puzzle that no one else is rooting for. It means being politically strategic.
Anyway, something like that is what I’m trying to do. I’m probably not the guy to do it, but I’d like to at least get people thinking along those lines.
Any such project is going to be schematic. It will leave stuff out or over-simplify stuff. Such as:
- A carbon cap, or tax, or cap-and-trade system. This was a tough call. Some sort of price on carbon is inevitable. But it seems to me that green advocacy for pricing carbon is kind of a back-door way of advocating for positive things like clean energy. I think a carbon price is all but inevitable now, and I’d rather have greens focus on positive solutions. But I go back and forth about this.
- Not all liquid-fuel use will shift to electricity. Solar thermal and geothermal will take a chunk of the heating. Biofuels will serve local uses.
- I didn’t mention — except by way of preparing the grid for it — clean energy itself. That’s because I think there’s a sh-tload of capital out there already flooding into that market. Government research would help, but the ball is rolling. Tons of people are devoting themselves to it. Greens can fill in the gaps, pushing on things few others are paying attention to, like the grid, storage, etc.
One final note: Stentor warns us to avoid an "energy-reductionist conceptualization of environmentalism." I don’t think we should avoid that, at least at the moment. In my mind, everything comes back to energy and climate change. Realigning our energy situation is central. All our other goals hinge on it, and it will have innumerable side benefits that will touch every other issue we hold dear. Every green group, of every stripe, should be focused like a laser on energy and climate change. Policymakers should be hearing one voice, talking about one thing, from every side. It’s time for a coordinated push.