Whoa!  This is much harder than I thought.  Not only did I receive several new email solicitations since I asked how each of us should spend $100 to support the climate movement; my head is spinning as I read the many persuasive responses to that post. 

Why the confusion?  All these green groups do seem so worthy.  At first, it’s hard to resist those local watershed groups and nature centers.  But hold on, UCS does seem to tell it like it is.  But wait – Tidwell and his brilliant band at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network? – of course they are deserving!  In the end, each of us must choose to donate to a group based on personal conviction, previous experience as a contributor, and in many cases friendships.

To make my final decision, I’ve come up with five questions for leaders of these groups.  These are questions shaped by a simple truth of post-COP15 USA.  In the next few weeks, we need to write and promote a bill that speaks to the hearts, minds and yes pocketbooks of the American public. 

Furthermore, there’s a deadline: Obama must announce that he intends to sign a historic global-warming bill on Earth Day 2010.  For after that, we may well be stuck for a while.  November 2010 elections loom, the 2012 Presidential campaign soon thereafter, and I’m not at all confident that our elected leaders will have the wherewithal to stand up for science-based climate policy in the face of powerful naysayers and a mainstream media that is beyond pathetic.  (As I boarded my flight to Copenhagen, what’s on the airport TV monitor?  CNN’s Wolf Blitzer with a graphic that read: “Global Warming – Trick or Truth?”  When historians recound the story of the climate movement, they will reserve special scorn for such foolishness.)

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So since I want to support a group that is properly geared up for this forthcoming fight of all fights, here are the five questions I’m asking of NGO leaders:

1.  What is your strategy to persuade the delayers that they are wrong?

Inside-the-beltway types thrive on their intimate understanding of the legislative process.  Yet for those of us in the hinterlands, this process seems to lull otherwise sensible folk into complacency.  THIS IS GLOBAL WARMING!  It’s not just some other bill about green jobs and clean energy and blah blah blah.  So dear NGO leader, when a congressional insider tells you that a climate bill will need to be delayed until after deregulation or a second stimulus package or another bill of no historic import, how will you convince them that this one can’t wait?  

2.  How will you stand up to the Wall Street crowd?

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Were I on the dark side, I’d be gleeful right now.  For it may well be that otherwise well-meaning leaders in DC are about to make a terrible, terrible mistake: to get behind a bill that smacks of Wall Street’s worst sins, sins that the American public has no interest in forgiving right now.  As an economist, I love the logic of cap-and-trade.  But in an economy in which millions of suffering households are blaming Wall Street for their woes, the irrefutable theory about cap-and-trade’s cost-effectiveness must take second fiddle to a political reality.  Americans are really, really angry about an economy that doesn’t work for them, and a cap-and-trade system that seems all Goldman-Sachs-mumbo-jumbo will play into the hands of the tea party crowd – as perhaps it should.  So dear NGO leader, do you intend to support a bill that is, in the best sense of the word, populist?  If so, what are the elements of that bill?    

3.  Who are your allies in civil society, the states, and the business community, and how do you intend to work with them?

Another major failing of the mainstream media is the way they have punted on some truly good news (and I get it – it’s because the news is good that they are not interested!): the thriving climate movement that has done so much to get us to where we are today.  There are so many examples: Step It Up! forced presidential candidates to set 80% by 2050 as a greenhouse gas reduction target; yes a Republican governor in California has led the way in showing that clean-energy policies are good for households and the planet; CERES has rallied hundreds of big-time businesses in support of policies that make carbon-based fuels more expensive and mobilize capital for clean-energy.  The list of movement achievements really does go on and on.  So dear NGO leader, how do you intend to work alongside your allies in the climate movement to achieve your goal?  (And don’t tell me that you are going to build a grassroots force in 2010: we don’t have time for that, and besides if you aren’t already a leader of the USA’s climate groundswell, well I don’t know what to say ..)   

4.  What is your climate narrative?

This may be the least intuitive question – and perhaps the most important.  To explain, let me go back to Earth Day 1970 and the planning that went into it.  As a new decade arrived 40 years ago, Dennis Hayes and his band of merry warriors realized that America was ready for something new, a new narrative about who we are in the face of a threatened planet.  What they pulled off in a few short months was remarkable for its size: up to 20 milliion Americans cleaning up roadsides, planting treees, and feeling good about what we now call ‘going green.’  But what was even more important was the narrative that Earth Day 1970 introduced: there’s a planet to save, and each of us can help.  Well now we need a new narrative, a narrative for this time and place and which speaks to enough Americans – girl scouts and their troop leaders, big-city school teachers and preachers, retirees everywhere – that they want to join a new inexorable groundswell, a groundswell in support of a climate bill for the ages.  This is the hardest thing we need to do, and – with integrity and humility – we need to do it now.  So dear NGO leader, what is your American story (and it’s OK if you didn’t come up with it yourself!) and how will your group help tell this story to the American people in the weeks ahead?       

5.  What is your measure of success?

All of these groups will be back in December 2010, asking for another $100 – and I’m sure it will be just as confusing then to decide.  So dear NGO leader, how will I know if you’ve succeeded in the next year – what will you do that I can observe and assess?

Sure, these are tough questions.  But in our household, $100 is no throwaway.  Plus, I don’t have time for the equivocators, at least over the next four months. 

So with 36 hours left to write a check that I can deduct on my 2009 tax bill, I’m all ears.


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