A lot of green folks of my acquaintance seem to have two and only two things to say about the Lieberman-Warner climate bill:

  1. It won’t achieve what science demands.
  2. Those who support it, even with qualifiers, even while pushing for improvements, are earth f*cking, corporate bootlicking sellouts.

Maybe I’m just feeling kumbaya because it’s 4/20 (ahem), but I don’t much care for purity tests like this.

Thing is, No. 2 does not necessarily follow from No. 1. It’s not enough to say that the bill doesn’t do what science demands. Of course it doesn’t. No bill, not even Sanders-Boxer, does that, and if there was such a bill it wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing this year, or next, or probably for many years to come. The question is not whether to compromise on the ideal targets, but how much, and when.

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It’s politics. You can’t just will it away. If high-minded purity yields political deadlock then it is in no way superior to obstructionism.

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There are people in the green community — lots of people, many for whom I have great respect — who think that the recent momentum behind carbon legislation is a hard-won and precious thing. It is not something that can be cranked up and down at will. It needs to to be nurtured and nudged along, not met with rigid ultimatums and red lines. They want us to use it as best we can, as fast as we can, to get a mandatory carbon cap in place. The day after that, we start fighting to make the system better.

Others think it’s worth waiting until a much better bill is on the table — not forever, but a year, maybe two. If you pass a deeply flawed bill now, it will be difficult to muster the political will to revisit it any time soon. Next year’s political environment is almost certain to be more amenable to strong climate legislation than this year’s, so it’s unwise to surrender too much in this Congressional session.

I’m in the second camp, but I don’t think it’s so obviously the right position that I can cop to moral superiority over those who come down differently. This is a scary, high-stakes poker game we’re playing, and we all see through the glass dimly.

I do know that there are people and institutions intractably opposed to any serious action at all. Perhaps instead of browbeating those who pursue action differently, we could train our fire on those folks.

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