This disaster has many authors.
(1) Republicans: There’s the fact that not a single Republican Senator would back a bill. Senator Graham backed away from the bill he originally helped to produce with Senators Kerry and Lieberman. Senator McCain, a one-time backer of cap-and-trade plans, has vanished when it comes to creating any plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Among large numbers of other Republicans denial of global warming has become a litmus test.
(2) Democrats: Then there’s the effort or lack thereof by Democrats, who mostly recognized climate change as a problem but with a few exceptions (such as Senator Kerry) seem unwilling to expend any political capital or effort on this most urgent issue. When will President Obama give a speech dedicated to rallying the public and the congress for an effort to curb climate change?
(3) There is also a regional element to inaction. The fact that coal mining brings jobs to some regions such as parts of Kentucky and West Virginia, among others (along with their equivalents elsewhere), seems now to provide reason enough for some to sacrifice the future environment for the entire country and indeed the entire world.
(4) The Media: The news media and political elites in general share a lot of blame. The news media seems to have tired of covering the issue and tends to focus on alleged controversies rather than the mountain of evidence that is continually reinforcing the scientific understanding of the climate crisis.
(5) Deniers: Finally, there are the legions of deniers and their followers. You know them well: the clog up the comments section of blogs parroting anti-reality nonsense. It’s interesting that it is considered socially acceptable in wide circles of the population to support the destruction of the world’s environment. It is also impossible to believe that most of the deniers employ the same ‘logic’ to any other problems that they may face. When it comes to climate change they are happy to ignore the findings of 97 percent of climate researchers. (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.abstract ) (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/01/19/eco.globalwarmingsurvey/index.html)How many of the deniers would be so willing to ignore the recommendations of 97 percent of oncologists or 97 percent of cardiologists? How many of the deniers would continue to ignore expert findings if they themselves of their loved ones had the terrible misfortune to be afflicted with a frightening disease?
In this moment of defeat, it’s hard to see a way forward. Current discussion focuses on (1) policy (2) local grass roots activism and (3) technology improvements, but none seems sufficient at present.
(1) Policy: Much of previous discussion has focused on how to create the best possible bill. Should it cap only the utility sector? Should it employ a cap-and-trade market as outlined in the American Power Act? (http://kerry.senate.gov/work/issues/issue/?id=7f6b4d4a-da4a-409e-a5e7-15567cc9e95c)
Or should we take the CLEAR Act approach? (http://cantwell.senate.gov/issues/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions.pdf) Whatever the merits or flaws of any of these plans, coming up with the best possible plan seems irrelevant as long as the Senate refuses to act.
(2) Local Grass Roots activism at least has the benefit of giving the frustrated environmental activist something to do. At its best such activism includes many worthwhile local projects and actions as in the forthcoming 350.org 10/10/10 ‘Global Work Party’ (http://www.350.org/campaigns/1010)
Such activism may even provide long term benefits by slowing educating the public, and there is no alternative to at least trying to do something, but the media, so far, seems happy to largely ignore such activism and the think globally act locally paradigm may have met its limit when it comes to an environmental crisis of this scale. What effect will local projects have on overall emissions, so long as there are no mandatory curbs and cuts in overall greenhouse gas emissions?
(3)Technological innovation, while necessary, is also inadequate by itself. Improvements in efficiency by themselves will not bring the overall cuts necessary to combat the climate crisis. The American economy, as a whole, has grown much more energy efficient over the last thirty years, but kept pumping out more and more greenhouse gas emissions (at least until the recent deep recession).Again and again we have seen increased efficiency used as a means to cut power use but to power increasing numbers of gadgets in our cars and homes. The world may be burning up but at least we’ll always have smart-phones.
So far, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Senate climate bill most environmentalists have fallen back on whatever strategy they already advocated, but all now seem inadequate. This does not mean that policy, grass roots activism, or technological innovation should be abandoned, but along with continuing work in these areas we urgently need a new approach or strategy. What form should such a new approach or strategy take?