Climate

The Vision Thing I: Our Defining Moment

As I mentioned in a previous post, many of my colleagues in climate-action circles are delighted at the detailed commitments the presidential candidates in the Democrat field are making about what they’ll do to fight global warming. It seems ungrateful to ask them for more. But ask we must.

We need to know what they’ll do to act quickly. And we need to hear their unifying vision for the post-carbon world.

On speed: We’ve all read Jim Hansen’s warning that the international community must take significant action within a decade if we wish to avoid the most dangerous consequences of global warming.

IPPC leader Rajendra Pachuari warns that speed is of the essence on global warming. Now the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has moved up the deadline. In announcing the IPCC’s final report on Nov. 16, Rajendra Pachuari warned, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

So, the question we must ask the candidates is not only what they’ll do, but when they’ll do it. What, for example, is each candidate’s plan for the first 180 days of the presidency — the six-month honeymoon period between inauguration and the middle of August, when Congress traditionally takes its summer recess?

What will the next President do about our constipated Congress?

Many of the proposals announced by the candidates so far apparently would have to be approved on the Hill, where bold intentions and good ideas go to die. The best way to deal with Congress, with all due respect, may be to avoid it as often as possible.

So, will the next President be willing to act unilaterally with assertive, even aggressive use of executive authority — like George Bush, except for nobler purposes? Who among the candidates is willing to promise, as FDR did, that “In the event that Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility and I will act.

We’ll address these issues in the upcoming Presidential Climate Action Plan, scheduled for release on Dec. 4. PCAP offers more than 100 policy and program proposals for the President’s first 100 days in office. We’ll release the first edition now, just as 130 nations are convening in Bali to talk about what happens after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires, and just before the presidential primaries begin in January.

PCAP will be the most comprehensive national climate action agenda yet presented to the American public (or to the candidates). Early next year, we’ll release a legal analysis of what the President can do immediately under executive authority. Over the next 9 months, we’ll track emerging science, policy and politics, conduct more studies, and issue the final action plan two months before the general election. We’ll give you a jump on the announcement here on Climate Progress, along with information on how you can offer ideas for the final plan.

On vision: We’ve all seen the nightmare of climate change, painted in numbers by scientists and in pictures by filmmakers. What is the dream? If we are moving away from fossil fuels and the industrial economy and greenhouse gas emissions, what are we moving toward?

A poll just published by The Economist magazine shows that 72% of primary voters in America believe the nation is on the wrong track. Another 8% aren’t sure. But what is the right track? What is our shared vision of a post-carbon world? What will it look like and why should we fight for it?

The climate challenge is so big and requires such fundamental changes that we won’t get it done unless the nation rallies behind it. The clear and present danger might unite us, as it continues getting clearer and more present. But we would waste less time and money if most Americans agreed on a compelling vision of the nation after carbon.

Good ideas alone aren’t enough. The true test of leadership in this campaign will be the candidates’ ability to articulate a positive vision for the post-carbon America and to unify the nation around it.

This is not our father’s presidential election. We are talking about transforming an economy, infrastructure and resource base that has developed and sustained American society over 200 years. We’re talking about rising from our couches in sufficient numbers to meet a challenge as great as any American ever has faced. It is indeed the defining moment of our generations.

I know the candidates are besieged by big issues: Iraq, health care, whether to issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants. I know it’s not smart to press the Republican candidates for a bold climate plan just now, while they’re courting their base. They’re likely to be bolder after the primaries. But wouldn’t it be nice to be clear and united about where we’re going, and to know that we are electing the President who has the right stuff to lead us there with all due speed?

— Bill B.

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26 Responses to The Vision Thing I: Our Defining Moment

  1. Earl Killian says:

    One thing the new President can do with executive orders is to have each government agency come up with a plan to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions by a certain amount (e.g. 30% by 2020, 80% by 2050). The US could also use its purchasing power to spur innovation: why not convert the USPS delivery truck fleet to plug-ins? How about the same for all government vehicles? With orders that large, some automaker is likely to step up to the plate.

  2. Ron says:

    Earl,

    The USPS is the only mostly ‘freestanding’ government entity. It doesn’t depend on tax plunder; it actually has to turn a profit. And I’m not sure the next president can influence it much through executive orders, or that she should.

    How about asking the military to go plug-in?

  3. Joe says:

    That’s funny Ron. The USPS relies on user fees, which I thought you all considered taxes.

    BTW, the military is pursuing plug ins….

  4. Ron says:

    A fee (such as the price of a stamp, rental on a box) equals a tax in your mind?

    No wonder you have such a hard time understanding the difference between a hypothesis and a fact.

    A tax is taken by force, as I’ve pointed out before. Nobody forces you to use the postal service, but you ARE forced to deal with the IRS, pay taxes on your property to the county, and pay a little extra in sales tax, for three common examples.

    The men with guns will come if you don’t pay your taxes (or perform your collection ‘duty’), but nobody will even notice if you decline to buy stamps. See the difference?

  5. Joe says:

    So why can’t govt charge a fee for people/industries who burn fossil fuels? It ain’t like there is a divine right to destroy the climate.

    “Nobody will even notice if you decline to buy stamps” but they will notice if you try to send a letter without a stamp.

    BTW, to repeat, taxes are NOT taken by force, at least in this country. They are volunteered by people who choose to live here. Not clear how someone can enjoy the myriad benefits of living in this country but think they deserve it all for free…..

  6. Ron says:

    I never asked for anything for free, Joe.

    You’re the one who wants people to pay more, based on incomplete science and warm-mongering propaganda. In that sense, Joe, you’re asking for something for ‘free’ – just get everybody to pony up for your pet cause.

    And if you don’t believe that “The men with guns will come if you don’t pay your taxes (or perform your collection ‘duty’),” then go ahead and test your idea: Don’t pay your taxes. Deal only with the black market. You may think it’s a voluntary system, but you are the only one who is deluded.

    I know you would never think of such a thing, but why not try it? Nobody is going to seriously miss your little ‘contribution’, it won’t endanger the planet, and you don’t like the present administration anyway. Withhold your ‘voluntary taxes’ and see which one of us is correct.

  7. Bill R says:

    Joe:

    On the same note of the next administration and congress needing to provide ambitious climate legislation, I just read a Wash. Post article about the Republicans needing to climb an even steeper wall this coming November with the recent retirements of Senators Lott and Domenici.
    The article mentioned that Tom Udall – D, a popular congressman, and progressive on climate issues will be running for Domenici’s Senate Seat.

    It is probably too early to do this yet, but I trust you will weigh in on those races and candidates that can help shift the debate in the House and Senate towards agressive policies. This way, interested readers at this blog will know how to best target any help they may have to give.

    Bill

  8. Bill Becker says:

    Earl — To build on your suggestion: The Presidential Climate Action Plan we’re announcing next Tuesday dedicates one chapter to a detailed plan for making the federal government carbon neutral. The plan is based on a study done for us by the Alliance to Save Energy. We provide all the information needed for the President to issue a new executive order on federal energy and carbon management.

    One key to reaching carbon neutrality is to bring energy use related to military transportation and mobility under the government’s goals for energy efficiency and carbon reduction. Another key is to restore specific targets for carbon reductions in federal agencies. They were removed by President Bush.

    We also include advance purchasing, golden carrot awards, supply chain standards and other steps to use the government’s purchasing power to strengthen markets for plug-ins and other technologies. And much more.

    Take a look next week when we’ve posted the presidential plan on our web site: http://www.climateactionproject.com. We’re creating a wiki to invite comments on the entire plan. Hope you’ll join that conversation.

    Bill Becker

  9. Ron says:

    Ahhh, so much money to spend and power to wield, and so little time! I’m sure President Hillary will be on board.

  10. Ronald says:

    Joe

    I’ve read the book ‘Hell and High Water’ for the second time and I think it is one of the best books on the subject. Thanks for writing it.

    One thing you didn’t mention and this is not meant as a criticism is that for Ronald Reagan to sign on to the Montreal Protocol, he had to be convinced to it sign from Margaret Thatcher. Luckily, Thatcher graduated from college with a degree in Chemistry. Of course Tony Blair is trying to convince Bush about AGW, but Bush is no Reagan.

    But also the carbon lobby is stronger than the non-carbon lobby whereas the CFC and the HCFC guys are the same people.

  11. Joe says:

    So much catastrophe to avoid and so little time to act. Please, Ron, do me a favor and tell your kids you were one of the ones opposing action on climate change — so they’ll know who is responsible for the ruined climate we are on the verge of leaving them.

  12. Joe says:

    Ronald:

    Thanks for your kind words — the few people who have read my book do seem to like it. Yes, CO2 is much, much tougher than CFCs, as you say. I suppose some might say that is cause for alarm, since we only just barely acted in time to the ozone layer. But it does show that even conservatives can work proactively to conserve our global environment.

    I think some of his advisers told Reagan that if he didn’t back the Montréal protocol, then all he would be remembered for by future generations is as the president that let the ozone layer be destroyed. W seems completely unaware that he will he remembered as the president who actively worked to block national and global action that might have saved the climate from the ruination. He thinks he’ll be remembered for Iraq — and remembered well for Iraq!! Not.

  13. Ron says:

    Yes, Joe, you’ll be glad to know I am teaching my kids the ‘denialist’ line, as well grounding them in the scientific method. I’ve told you before about the 6th grade “science teacher” who was teaching that humans are “a virus to Mother Earth!!!!” (exclamation points his) and the 4th grade teacher who had my daughter in tears because Grammy and Grandad were about to drown in the rising ocean.

    Speaking of CFCs and the ozone layer, my daughter’s 4th grade teacher has the ozone hole and global warming confused in her mind (as does much of the public apparently). I’m not as well-read on the ozone layer as I am on climate change, so maybe you can help me out.

    My understanding is that CFCs take 50-100 years on average to ascend to the ozone layer, where they undergo chemical changes/reactions that destroy ozone. Am I correct so far? What I’m wondering about is how did the ozone hole danger go away when there should be a whole bunch of CFCs still making their way up there (assuming we actually stopped their release …).

    Can you shed some light on this for me? This isn’t just another example of environut hype, is it?

  14. Ron says:

    I meant to say “5th grade teacher” has ozone/warming confused. New school year, new battles! ;-)

  15. Ron says:

    I’m embroiled in a discussion now with three teachers over this ozone hole thing. Can’t anybody help me out here?

    Why is the hole shrinking?

  16. Joe says:

    Have you considered googling the phrase — why is ozone hole shrinking — you’ll find lots of answers. This is the most recent piece:

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22768961-421,00.html

  17. Ron says:

    But that doesn’t fit with the assertion that it takes 50-100 years for the ozone-destroying chemicals to reach the upper atmosphere; nor the fact that lots of potentially ozone-destroying chemicals are still being produced and released into the atmosphere; nor the assertion that increasing greenhouse gases speed up the process. We shouldn’t be seeing any improvement this soon.

    Could the hypothesis be flawed?

  18. Joe says:

    Well, it doesn’t fit your assertion. Please find some evidence for that assertion. You didn’t read the articles I told you to read — they explained all this.

  19. Mike says:

    Ron,

    You seem to be confusing “science” with certainty. Certainty is a psychological state that is related to belief. No science will ever give you certainty. Science is about making falsifiable statements (hypotheses) and finding relevant data that supports them or falsifies them. As long as the hypothesis is supported by data from many independent observers and not falsified, it is accepted. So far the central AGW hypotheses have been supported by reams and reams of data. Furthermore all seemingly falsifying pieces of data have been accounted for so far or are in the process of being explained.

    The climate system is complex, so as a complex system, there will be many pieces of data (but still a very small fraction of all climate datasets) that can be weaved together to support alternative hypotheses to AGW. In this way it is more complicated than Newtonian physics which is model for scientific “certainty” for many who do not want to grapple with complex systems scientifically. These alternative hypotheses for GW have little support in the data but are waved about by people like yourself as a means to show that “certainty” has not been arrived at.

    As to your objections to teachers in your kids schools: I have no idea as to the reality of what you are saying about these particular people and would assume that you would be looking out for fights to pick given your participation on this board. On the other hand, there may be people out there who are not the most psychologically sensitive messengers of what is quite grim news, especially for kids. That being said, that doesn’t mean that you “shoot” the messenger…

    If you take it upon yourself to “school” these people, remember that you seem to be operating with a misconception about what science is and that it doesn’t bring “certainty”.

  20. Dano says:

    Science is about making falsifiable statements (hypotheses) and finding relevant data that supports them or falsifies them.

    One should also be able to calculate the chance that the hypothesis-theory will occur/is true, and be able to make predictions about the theory.

    Best,

    D

  21. Ron says:

    Mike,

    You said: “Science is about making falsifiable statements (hypotheses) and finding relevant data that supports them or falsifies them.”

    Yes.

    ” As long as the hypothesis is supported by data from many independent observers and not falsified, it is accepted.”

    Slow down. Define “many” and “accepted”.

    ” So far the central AGW hypotheses have been supported by reams and reams of data.”

    Yes and no. Reams and reams of paper, for sure

    ” Furthermore all seemingly falsifying pieces of data have been accounted for so far…”

    Nope, or you would have more of your “many independent observers” on board already. There really is still a debate – one of the points in Al Gore’s movie that can definitely be proven false.

    ” … or are in the process of being explained.”

    And THAT is a BELIEF not a scientific conclusion, isn’t it?

    Look at it this way: Let’s assume for the moment that all the dire news is correct – serious ice loss, worsening and more frequent catastrophic weather events, increasing drought, swiftly rising seas, not to mention rising average temperatures; and all the contrary news has been proven to be false.

    What is a scientist to do when his models fail to perform as he expected; when his observations don’t match his hypothesis?

    We are told that ice loss and all that is happening much faster than the models predicted. One answer might be that the hypothesis is ‘righter’ than expected. But there could be other explanations and waving away contrary evidence isn’t a very scientific way to proceed.

    Let me try an analogy:

    Let’s say we wanted to calculate the time it would take to bring a pot of water to a boil. We’d take into account various factors like the starting temperature of the water, its surface area, and its volume, the heat of the flame, altitude, and maybe if we tried to get really exacting we might try to factor in the conductivity of the pan, etc. Right?

    What if the water heated up faster than we expected? We expected fast, but we observed faster? Was our calculation ‘righter’? No, we made a mistake somewhere along the way.

    And in my dealings with the teachers, by the way, I don’t shoot the messenger. I’m friends with all of them except the 6th grade science teacher. He threw a public tantrum when told he needed to give the kids a chance to do some critical thinking about Gore’s movie. The principal told me later that the guy was an engineer who apparently couldn’t ‘do’ so he became a teacher and “seems to move around a lot. This was his sixth teaching job in eight years”. Just a nut.

  22. Ron says:

    Oh yeah, the CFC thing:

    I’ve recently read estimates of the time it takes for CFC molecules to get to the upper atmosphere of “2 years” to “several decades”, by various experts.

    The assertion of 50-100 years came from Rowland and Molina. They won a Nobel prize for their work, remember?

  23. Ron says:

    Now does anybody want to take a stab at the ozone hole question?

  24. Ron says:

    A real head scratcher, huh?

    And this one is simple compared to the AGW hypothesis.

  25. Jay Alt says:

    Sounds like a confusion of terms to me. But I will need to check further. . .
    What’s it worth to you?

  26. Ron says:

    What’s it worth to me? What is a greater understanding of the workings of climate and our impact on it worth?! My gosh, Jay, this is our fragile Mother Earth we are talking about here. Don’t be flippant about any aspect of Her. Our striving must always be toward truth and perfect stewardship and the reduction of our carbon footprints!

    Just answer the question. Why is the ozone hole getting smaller? Observations don’t seem to fit the hypothesis.

    And: What’s wrong with considering alternative hypotheses?