How to get the climate legislation that is needed

April 30, 2010

For those who have not been closely follwoign the recent spat between Lindsey Graham and Harry Reid on twitter, it should be obvious given the recent politics that immigration is a much dearer issue to the Majority Leader than climate change. The bipartisan attempt constructed by Senators Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry is perhaps at its nadir, for Graham has effectively walked away, according to latest reports, should the Democrats consider immigration at all this year. Environmentalists, moreover, are not particularly happy about this bill. Greenpeace has already preemptively opposed. The reductions are weak, there are fairly extensive aids to coal companies, which is shameful. I am a rational enough human being to realize that while nuclear has some downsides, if you plan to do anything about climate change, you have to use nuclear and natural gas as transition fuels, while gradually scaling up wind, solar, and whatever other energies win the alternative fuel off. Coal is particularly bad, not just because of mountain top removal, but because it is the most intensive carbon fuel on the planet, and responsible for all sorts of other nasty pollutants. And CCS has never been anything but a myth. So in the first place the bill isnt so good, and in the second place, environmental penalty in elections isnt an especially weighty thing, as opposed to the backlash Democrats could suffer if they dont make token attempts at immigration reform.

The truth of the matter is that climate change has to be fought intergenerationally. There has to be a core of voters,that put the environment in general and climate change specifically at the top of their agenda. There has to be consequences for government for the way they act. This must be true on the local level, on the state level, and on the national level. Alternatively, powerful enviromentalist local leaders and executives can have large effects. Several small cities already aim for carbon neutrality. It is not difficult to find cities that have made positive steps on their own. Strong actions by municipalities, such as San Francisco, have changed the way individuals conceive of trash and environmentalism.

The question, logistically, is how. Probably the most powerful and indeed in some ways the most effective (in the sense that they have staked out an extreme position that has garnered literally massive, international support) is a group called 350.org, led primarily by Bill McKibben. This group, along with a few affiliates, chose Copenhagen as its goal and held a massive worldwide rally on October 24th, an achievement that is some ways unparalleled, but also a bit overhyped. It set out a framework for negotiation, but it did not achieve any of its real goals at Copenhagen. 350.org is also closely allied to poorer nations, in particular those like the Maldives who stand to lose their territory to climate change.

350.org has responded to the morass of post-Copenhagen politics by a campaign called Let’s get to work, scheduled for 10/10/10, which focuses on green actions like installing solar panels, planting gardens, etc. 350 is big, new, and relatively locally lead. It has none of the downsides of a Greenpeace with its extreme positions or a Sierra Club or the other countless environmental organiztions that are all too often implicated in the horse trading of Washington politics. What 350 needs to do is transfer their enthusiasm into political consequences for national leadership. Sometime in August, say 8/8/10, 350 needs an event that will get all of the people who are planning to come out for 10/10/10 together, to make sure everyone is registered to vote. They need to get candidates to come talk. Μοst importantly, they need a list of about 15 or 20 representatives to beat. At 10/10/10, everyone should sign some sort of pledge to vote. Politicians need to feel the consequences of ignoring the environmental movement.

350 can follow up whatever successes it has in 2012 with another promise. Any Democrat who opposes climate legislation or dawdle will have a Green Democrat primary opponent. It’s time to stop playing these games, waiting for crumbs, but to show that there will be some cost for acting like climate change isnt happening.

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