Climate

Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?

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:

  1. Put a serious price on carbon
  2. Spend a gazillion dollars on clean technology development and deployment
  3. 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.

newt-nyt.jpgAs 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.

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.”

20 Responses to Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?

  1. paulm says:

    “And yes, for 450 ppm or lower, you need all three.”…

    And more! You’ll need to extract CO2 for the atmosphere cause we are going to go overshoot.

  2. Tom Fiddaman says:

    Two more:

    – Fix institutional arrangements that favor carbon consumption (regulated electric prices, zoning, etc.)
    – Change lifestyle

    As you say, all are needed. However, if you do enough of the others, you don’t need many mandates, which in my opinion are a clumsy distraction in many cases.

  3. paulm says:

    The clear cut divide is pretty startling. The republicans are laggards, but also supremacist.

    Could it be that, subconsciously (or otherwise), they all think that GW and the cull of humanity that will result, especially for the poor and destitute, will be a good thing and that they will survive with access to more resources?

  4. Sasparilla says:

    This stuff just isn’t making me feel very good here Joe. While I’m happy with Obama’s appointments regarding climate change, going with Cap and Trade and then planning to use a bunch of that revenue for non energy uses (I think its healthcare and that will only grow) is…extremely disheartening. It gives me the impression everything is up for bargaining in our new administration (no moral absolutes, of which there need to be a few).

    Hansen said he didn’t think a Cap and Trade would work fast enough (because of the slack at the beginning I think) to do what we needed. What’s your opinion on that Joe?

  5. Paliman says:

    I agree with Sasparilla.

    As I read in Truth Out “Most of the $646 billion from the pollution fees will be used to pay for Obama’s tax credit, which provides up to $400 a year to individuals and $800 a year to couples.”

  6. Rick C says:

    Lewis,

    Thanks for the link. It’s good to see that Hansen also sees Cap and Trade as yet another Wall Street racket jinned to make them as much money as possible along the lines of the last racket, the deregulation of the banking industry, (Shearson-Lehman and Goldman Sacks) or the energy markets, (ENRON). Tax with 100% dividend is the most honest approach and puts the money back into the pockets of the middle class but reminds them that use of this energy source has a cost to society that will be increasingly difficult to bear but encourages them to reduce their use of fossil fuels through conservation and more efficient energy use.

  7. CTF says:

    It’s scary the lengths to which deniers will go…

  8. ecostew says:

    Unfortunately, as long as the media gives equal time to deniers, it will be impossible to get the public to back AGW mitigation. The Obama Administration must aggressively keep the AGW issue in front of the public and sell it or Republicans will not come to the table.

  9. Greg Robie says:

    Joe, willful ignorance = motivated reasoning

    While the climate change creationists are not with out fault in the challenges that humanity faces, I think some humility and self-examination is merited by all Americans, left and right. And those who’ve elected Barack Obama President as an embodiment of our “hope,“ was that ”hope,“ systemically, much more than a wish?

    When ones brain gives one dopamine for having the right answer, well (and no matter the “thinking”/feeling used to get the answer), one has the right answer. Consequently, any subsequent debate, and to the degree such an oxymoron can be called such, is ocuring in a non-rational dynamic. But for the denial afforded the left by our own version of motivated reasoning, the only “argument” that can be rationally effected in such a dynamic is that of how one lives. Living a lifestyle that is unsustainable, except for a “fringe,” is loosing argument.

    The problem of sustainability is a problem for which a social answer is required. Individualism, the left’s moral “gift” to our culture, is inadequate to provide such answers. The left has left itself vulnerable to Newt’s rhetorical question:

    “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?”

    And, systemically, the answer is? . . . .

    [JR: You give most of the money back to the people, to cover everyone up through the middle class, thus rendering them held harmless, as Obama plans to do. Plus you change utility regulations and have a massive energy efficiency deployment effort, that keeps energy bills constant even as rates go up. So ultimately people end up with more money and cleaner energy plus all the jobs you created. Oh, and you avert a thousand years of misery from unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions. That, systematically, is the answer.]

    Consequently, no matter how good the climate modeling, the left as a whole is without an answer that is the difference we want to see in the world. Therefore we are both, left and right, lost to fears that are inherent to our individualistic approach to our economic endeavors; our social, but individualistically perceived, pursuit of “wealth” and economic “security.” Systemically there is not such thing a personal property, only personally responsibility. And this observation inspires this haiku:

    the right to be irresponsible

    one guaranteed right:
    irresponsibility.
    choose and loose others…

    © 3/4/09 greg robie

  10. Linda S says:

    I don’t know what everyone’s so worried about. The scientists will find a way to save us, they always do (is that in real life or in the science fiction movies? I forget which). They are already working on a project to build a cannon 0.6 miles wide, use it to shoot mirrors a million miles out into space and create a 100,000 square mile shield to protect the earth from all those harmful rays. It can be ready to go in 20 or 30 years for the bargain price of $350 trillion dollars. The mirrors will need to be replaced every fifty years for the next thousand years or so, but the price is worth it. Of course, we ought to start budgeting for it now as we have no time to waste in getting the project off the ground.

    Think I’m kidding (wish I were!!)?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/globalwarming/4839985/Scientists-to-stop-global-warming-with-100000-square-mile-sun-shade.html

  11. James Newberry says:

    Joe,

    Continuing thanks for your work. Is that 450 ppm figure for carbon dioxide alone or CO2 equivalent (including ALL greenhouse gases)? If the latter, won’t we soon be there?

    Newt looks bad on that cover. Maybe he swallowed some coal.

  12. RE wonk says:

    Joe–

    You’re right that Republicans will be reluctant to pass climate legislation, but I’m pretty sure the Obama camp has a strategy that will work. Basically, allow federal agencies to move ahead with administrative ways to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including the EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act … an approach that most experts agree would be less than ideal. I think it would scare the heck out of the companies that are funding all the climate deniers and foot-draggers.

    I’m pretty sure that Obama will be able to say: “Here’s where the EPA is going … if you don’t like it, Congress, send me a bill that meets my greenhouse gas reductions goals, and I’ll allow you to include measures that take away the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases. Send me anything short of that, and I’ll veto it.”

    Those afraid of byzantine government regulations will run toward the center, namely, cap-and-trade (or maybe even, if we’re lucky, a carbon tax).

    It’ll cost Obama some political capital, to be sure, but I think he’ll do it, because he seems like a true believer … he gets the science, and he realizes the imperative to act quickly. I’m sure his folks worked behind the scenes to dump Dingell and replace him with Waxman, and now the stars are aligned as they’ve never been before … thanks in part to the legal decisions of the Bush administration! I think it’ll really happen this year.

  13. CarbonFreeMan says:

    It would be better to get a solution that would result in action on carbon reduction/global warming than to get left with nothing at all.

    Joe, your comment inserted in Greg Robie’s comment reads:
    [JR: You give most of the money back to the people, to cover everyone up through the middle class, thus rendering them held harmless, as Obama plans to do. Plus you change utility regulations and have a massive energy efficiency deployment effort, that keeps energy bills constant even as rates go up. So ultimately people end up with more money and cleaner energy plus all the jobs you created. Oh, and you avert a thousand years of misery from unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions. That, systematically, is the answer.]

    It seems to me that what you’re saying is compatible with the ideas suggested in a December 2008 op-ed piece in the NY TImes by South Carolina Rep. Inglis:

    “An Emissions Plan Conservatives Could Warm To
    By BOB INGLIS and ARTHUR B. LAFFER

    CONSERVATIVES don’t support tax increases that are veiled as “cap and trade” schemes for pollution permits. But offer us a tax swap, and we could become the new administration’s best allies on climate change.

    A climate-change bill withered in Congress this summer because families don’t need an enormous, and hidden, tax increase. If the bill’s authors had instead proposed a simple carbon tax coupled with an equal, offsetting reduction in income taxes or payroll taxes, a dynamic new energy security policy could have taken root.

    We need to impose a tax on the thing we want less of (carbon dioxide) and reduce taxes on the things we want more of (income and jobs). A carbon tax would attach the national security and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil, causing the market to recognize the price of these negative externalities.

    Nuclear power plants would then compete with coal-fired plants. Wind and solar power would have a shot against natural gas. Trains would compete with trucks. We would clean the air, create wealth and jobs through a new technology boom and drastically improve our national security.”

    Could this or a similar proposal be the basis for a bipartisan climate bill?

  14. Ben Lieberman says:

    The denial campaign is in full force and seems to have become an issue of identity for conservatives. Many of the opening comments on any online version of a newspaper story on global warming begin with a series of posts that contain nothing but lies. Those who want action need to come up with strategies to use such delusion against those who cling to falsehoods.

  15. fred bender says:

    Unfortunately, everyone here is ‘preaching to the choir.’ I vacillate between having a small amount of hope and no hope at all. The truely sad thing is tackling climate change, energy independence, and sustainable conservationism is all within our grasp, but we are not going to do any of these. A lot of citizens are just not that well informed or intentioned and respond easily to political posturing that promises short term gain for them. Selfishness has grown into a mainstream value and altruism is viewed as naive and foolish. As a psychologist I have assessed this phenomenon as a second tier response to our country’s Great Depression. “Sorry, got to do for me and mine!” philosophy.

  16. John McCormick says:

    Greg Robie,

    you said:

    [The problem of sustainability is a problem for which a social answer is required.]

    I say: nationalize America’s electric generation and distribution sector and rebuild it with the needs of future generations written into the blueprint!

    © 3/07/2009 John McCormick

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  18. Trail Nerd says:

    The Republican condemnation of the energy plans reminds me a lot of the fall of Clinton’s Health Security Plan. Similar tactics are being used by moderate Dems, Republicans and the media. For a refresher check out “Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda” by Lo and Schwartz – let’s hope history isn’t repeating itself.

  19. Theodore says:

    The climate connection to the political spectrum should not exist, but it does. It seems to be related to the perceived credibility of scientists, and this, in turn, may have a lot to do with the debate between creation and evolution – what people were taught as children and what they believe as adults. I wonder just how many young-earth creationists feel that the scientific community has credibility on the global warming issue. How many members of congress are representing a young-earth creationist constituency?