Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

How do you see policy about climate playing out over the next, say, decade?


  1. I'm a pessimist. I'm of the opinion that it's probably already too late. We'll get some knee-jerk legislation once Manhattan starts flooding, but for the most part, I don't see anything meaningful happening to stem the tide of climate change. Which is mostly fine for us in rich countries, but devastating for those in poor island nations.

  2. I was vaguely optimistic when the issue didn't break on partisan lines, but the advent of the "Al Gore is Fat, haha!"/Ken Cuncinelli manner of dealing with climate change makes me more pessimistic about this than repealing DOMA or the Hyde Amendment.

    Somewhere else, I saw someone analogizing the GOP's current status as one in which Abbie Hoffman became DNC chair; the fundamental anti-Enlightenment inclinations of the GOP, like its other mouth-breathing policies, has to collapse soon, but I doubt it'll burn itself out in a decade unless 2012 were a spectacular blowout, which it can't be. So, yeah, with Bullied Pulpit, pessimism.

    I'm glad that John Boehner's around; he can cry crocodile tears when Vanuatu drowns.

  3. We're going to have to adapt, not prevent. That should be the goal of future legislation from here outwards. Climate Change will involve log growth from what my politically orientated brain understands.

  4. Pessimistic, yes. I doubt we'll have anything meaningful for quite some time. And, I also suspect it's too late.

  5. Aha, a question where I feel I have something to say! A couple ways to look at this. Climate policy will stagnate as long as the economy sucks. We've seen demand for green products plummet because people are concerned about simply getting by. "Green" issues are secondary to basic economic well being and always will be. Since I think the economy is going to stagnate over the next decade, the chance of passing "climate" legislation is not good.

    But that doesn't mean we should give up. It is possible to achive the same policies, with the same results, by shifting our message from "climate" to "energy and the economy". But its not just our message that has to change, its our entire view of how economics, energy, and the climate interact. A few key points:

    1. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2005 and have been declining since. Even without a "climate policy". USA! USA!

    2. Crude oil production peaked in 2005 as well (the IEA says crude oil will never reach 74 million/barrels a day again)....hmmmmmm....just a coincidence?

    3. Was the peak of GHGs in 2005 a good proxy for the end of "real" economic growth in the 2000s? The debt bubble kept things going until 2008, but once oil got expensive in 2005, we saw the economy slow down with the consequent drop in GHGs.

    4. My point is this: the climate movement has been going at this all wrong by promoting clean energy in order to lower GHG emissions. Climate policies are viewed as having an "economic cost" and are thus unpopular. But now there is a strong case that the end of cheap oil means GHG emissions will not grow, and neither will the economy unless we find alternative energy sources to move away from oil and find other ways to power economic growth.

    5. Our messaging needs to reflect this. We aren't pushing a "climate policy" that has an economic cost, we are pushing an "economic growth policy" that gets us off expensive oil. The climate movement needs to get this through their collective heads. The goal should not be "limiting GHGs to 350" as McKibben would have it. This is an extraordinarily destructive message for our cause in a time of stagnant economic growth. Average Joes and politicans look at us as having warped priorities. Our goal should be finding affordable alternative energy sources that will get us out of the oil trap that is killing the economy. Same basic policies, same end goals, different message.

    So to answer the original question: "climate policy" is, and should be, dead. GHGs will drop regardless. The next battleground will be over energy and the economy. Is the green movement just going to cede this ground to conservatives? I hope we get in the game.

  6. I think the best hope for any action on climate is to kill two birds with one stone and pass a sigificant and revenue-generating carbon tax/cap and trade plan. Not too optimistic, though, since even a number of Dems seem to have no understanding or interest. I'll never know why people didn't push harder to pass a carbon tax using reconciliation--there were probably 50 votes, but not 60.

  7. I'm actually uber-pessimistic on this issue. If the 111th Congress didn't do anything on this issue, Congress may not get serious about climate change for decades, at which point it may be too late.

    Hopefully the private sector will continue to work on geoengineering solutions (with apologies to Jared Diamond) and if progress is made, Congress will act to responsibly regulate the process.

  8. I suspect by the time Florida is under a foot of water, conservatives won't care if Al Gore is fat. Until then, I don't see anything happening. It's tribal now, and the conservative tribe won't allow progress on climate issues.

  9. You can't lay this solely on the Republicans; we're not going to get much progress on climate policy as long as we have an unconcerned American public. I don't see how this could change in the next decade, but if gas prices keep rising, you never know...

  10. I agree with everyone else. There is no way to focus on climate with a poor economy. It looks like economic issues and defending ACA is just about all that we can expect from our leaders in the medium term.

    Climate has a slowly emerging consensus among the young, so eventually it has to get some traction as the tea partiers die off, but that will take around the same length of time that the disaster will take to be totally beyond help. Climate will require a major disaster that is clearly due to climate change to jolt the population into real action. By that time it is too late of course. A second dust bowl might do it, but then we also won't be able to do anything about it.

    As long as half of the voters are willing to vote for leaders that don't believe in science or rationality, we can't make progress on climate. It would require an effort comparable to ACA and would generate the same level of backlash. I don't think the Democratic party is willing to make climate the next health care. They are not willing to sacrifice other priorities and make the tremendous push it would require.

    Note that I believe that Republican voters are not as extreme as their leaders on climate, but we can't make much progress as long as Inhofe and people like him are respectable leaders of their side.

  11. I predict a carbon tax within the next 10 years, because the government will need the money, and it will be more attractive than income taxes.

  12. Best case scenario would be a stalemate that allows current policy to continue with the EPA lightly regulating carbon emissions but no carbon tax or cap-and-trade plan able to pass the Senate.

  13. @The Caretaker: Environmental groups are already doing this. When I was canvassing for an Environmental non-profit, our message was "we can stop global warming, get off foreign oil, AND CREATE JOBS AT THE SAME TIME." The rap and responses and talking points all emphasized jobs jobs jobs. It didn't make much of a difference.

    @Ron E: The problem is that the senate is engaged in a constant battle against coal and oil-state senators (and GOPers) that are attaching amendments stripping the EPA of its power to every important bill that comes up. I'm not convinced we can keep winning that battle.


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