Although surprisingly little-remarked on, the big story of the year so far — at least from the perspective of the fate of America and all humankind — is the hardening of the conservative movement against every possible strategy for dealing with global warming.
For instance, I don’t think the Obama administration has grasped the implications of the sheer impossibility that it could ever get 67 votes for a climate treaty in the Senate (see NYT article here suggesting they will pursue such a treaty “in a robust way” and my post, “Obama can’t get a global climate treaty ratified, so what should he do instead?“).
Is Obama setting himself up to fail, making Rush Limbaugh’s dream come true?
If you want to tackle global warming, if you want to avert the unimaginable misery of 5.5° to 7°C warming and 850 ppm for the next 100 billion people who walk the planet this millennium, you have only three strategies:
- Put a serious price on carbon
- Spend a gazillion dollars on clean technology development and deployment
- Mandate the use of efficient, cleaner technology.
[And yes, for 450 ppm or lower, you need all three.]
Now even “moderate” conservatives like McCain and Gregg have always opposed even the mildest of mandates — requirements that utilities get a fraction of their power from renewable energy (see “The greenwasher from Arizona has a record as dirty as the denier from Oklahoma” and “Is a possible 60th Senate seat worth a not-very-green GOP Commerce Secretary?“). Mandates for renewables and more fuel-efficient cars, of course, can’t do much more than stem the rise of emissions, so they are just a piece of the puzzle.
As for the serious carbon price, if it wasn’t obvious from last year’s Senate debate (see here) that Congressional conservatives intend to demagogue to death any price for carbon (from a cap or a tax) — it is certainly clear now that they believe it is not only not a losing issue, but a big winning issue. Listen to one of the conservative movement’s reemerging leaders, Newt “Republicans in Congress turn their lonely eyes to” Gingrich who laid out the demagogic strategy at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in DC on Friday (see here):
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich charged Friday that the cap-and-trade proposal contained in President Barack Obama’s budget amounts to a $640 billion “energy tax” over eight years that will break the new president’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.
“Let me get this straight,” said Gingrich. “We’re not going to raise tax on anybody making under $250,000 a year unless you use electricity. And we are not going to raise taxes on anybody under $250,000 a year unless you buy gasoline. And we are not going to raise taxes on anybody who makes under $250,000 a year unless you buy heating oil. And we’re not going to raise taxes on anybody who earns less $250,000 a year unless you use natural gas.”
“And I try to think to myself,” he added, “even in the left wing of the Democratic Party, where there are some people who are fairly unusual, how many of them don’t use heating oil, natural gas, gasoline or electricity?”
Now what you have to remember about Newt is that while he is a hard-core conservative, some progressives actually quite recently thought he was reasonable on climate issues. Remember this ad (video here) of Gingrich and Pelosi sponsored by Al Gore’s (!) Alliance for Climate Protection.
Ah, the good old days of faux bipartisanship. I remember them as if they were almost … last year.
If you’ve listened to the news over the last few days, then you’ve heard this theme pressed by conservatives. I saw a clip of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner savaged yesterday by conservatives on the House Ways and Means Committee over this. Indeed, the demagoguery started before the hearing (see here):
“This massive hidden energy tax is going to work its way through every aspect of American life,” said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. “How we light our homes, heat our homes and pay for the gas in our cars, in every phase of our daily lives, we will be paying higher costs.”
So please tell me how many House Republicans are going to vote for a cap (for one analysis, see “What are the prospects for climate legislation in the House?“). Why should they try to preserve a livable climate for future generations of Americans when they see destroying the climate as the road to their salvation (see The conservative stagnation, Part 12: Cap & trade bill will return GOP to power “in 2010″³).
As for the Senate, even holding McCain and the Maine delegation for a serious bill will be a great achievement — but McCain has already said that three senators doesn’t count as bipartisanship.
Finally, we have the strategy of spending “real money” on climate — and I’m not talking that piddling $15 billion a year on cleantech that Obama has pledged. No, for those supposedly on the side of saving the climate who aren’t big on carbon prices or mandates, who think that it’s a much easier political lift to just spend money — yes I am talking about those wonderful folks at the Breakthrough Institute — Obama’s plan is, pardon the expression, Bush league (emphasis in original):
Will Obama Put Real Money on the Table for Clean Energy?
Jesse Jenkins examines Obama’s long term commitments to clean energy investment and finds them lacking. “If Obama remains committed to spending just $15 billion per year to spur a new energy economy, America will fail in that endeavor.” What will it take to get Obama to double, triple or even quadruple his commitment to the strategic public investments necessary to spark a clean energy economy?
[Pause for laughter, or tears.]
Yes, I think I’ve heard the voices of a few conservatives in recent days say that the problem with Obama’s plan is that he is spending far, far too little on public investments in clean energy. But then I woke up.
So whatever we do on climate for foreseeable future, it ain’t gonna be bipartisan.
This has huge implications for energy, climate, and politics that I believe have not been thought through by many people. I had a preliminary discussion of this last year (see “Q: Does a cap & trade bill have to be bipartisan?“) and again here (see “Obama can’t get a global climate treaty ratified, so what should he do instead?“).
I will endeavor to discuss further implications in the upcoming weeks. As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Let me end by reposting what I wrote about the #2 story of 2008:
Conservatives go all in on climate denial and delay. While the grim implications of the science and observational data discussed above have become painfully obvious to everyone else, conservatives simply refuse to accept reality. For instance, even though a very warm 2008 makes this the hottest decade in recorded history by far — and even though 2008 was about 0.1°C warmer than the decade of the 1990s as a whole (even with a La-Ni±a-fueled cool winter) for some deniers, “2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved.” Seriously.
The entire conservative movement, including pundits, think tanks, and politicians, now appears willing to stake the future of humanity on their willful ignorance.
- Virtually every conservative in the Senate voted against the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner climate bill even though that bill was inadequate to stopping catastrophic warming.
- James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) believes a cap & trade bill will return GOP to power “in 2010″³
- Grover Norquist asserts that calls to take global warming more seriously will be “cheerfully ignored“
- 64% of GOP voters say global warming denier Palin is their top choice for 2012,
- “Several prominent party officials said they believe the GOP’s message is fundamentally sound when it comes to energy policy, pointing to that issue as one of the few political bright spots in recent years.“
- The Heritage Foundation even opposes energy efficiency
- The American Enterprise Institute is still crazy with denial and delay after all these years
- The Cato Institute believes adaptation is cheaper than mitigation.
- Columns by Charles Krauthammer and George Will and John Tierney have become science-free zones that demand more climate research while inveighing against all serious climate action and against all non-nuclear clean tech.
That’s why the deniers are winning, especially with GOP voters or rather only with GOP voters.
If the Obama climate dream team is going to lead the nation and the world into a World War II scale effort to save humanity from self-destruction, they will be waging a difficult two-front war — against the ever-accelerating reality of climate change itself and against the immovable unreality of “anti-science conservatives.”