The world’s youth have every right to demand more climate action than Waxman-Markey provides — since they will suffer most from the Baby Boomers’ greed and myopia when the Ponzi scheme we’ve created at their expense collapses.
And yet as a Saturday NYT piece makes clear — “Disillusioned Environmentalists Turn on Obama as Compromiser” — youth would appear to have misdirected their anger toward true environmental leaders like Obama, Waxman, and Markey.
Worse, part of the “youth” movement — specifically the website “It’s Getting Hot in Here” and by extension the “Energy Action Coalition,” which features that blog prominently on its website — has been partly co-opted by people who are in fact anti-environmental, people who have repeatedly smeared environmental champions with false accusations, people who have consistently proposed infinitely weaker climate action than Waxman-Markey.
Why has there been no major piece of legislative action on global warming, clean energy, or air pollution in the past two decades? Because increasingly, Republicans will only offer “no” for an answer, while many environmentalists will not take “yes” for an answer. And that leaves precious little room in the middle. If moderates know that voting for even moderate climate and clean energy action like the Waxman-Markey bill will unleash a torrent of criticism and attack ads funded by the right wing and fossil fuel companies, but bring only tepid support, if not outright hostility, from the left, then they are in a lose-lose situation.
Fortunately, we aren’t in that helpless and hopeless place quite yet. The bulk of the environmental and progressive communities understand that, for all its flaws,
- Waxman-Markey would complete the transition to a clean energy economy begun in the stimulus bill.
- It’s failure would not lead to stronger climate action anytime soon — quite the reverse, it would all but doom any prospect of national and, equally important, international action for the foreseeable future, precisely the time-frame in which strong action must begin if our youth are not going to be left with a ruined climate (see here).
Still, the NYT was able to assemble an impressive array of quotes from people with mostly misdirected anger. I’m going to focus just on one:
“He was far too quiet during the House debate,” said Jessy Tolkan, the executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, a youth group in Washington that campaigns for clean energy. “He needs to live up to the promises he made to us when we poured our heart and soul into electing him.”
I do think Obama was too quiet during the House debate, as I’ve said. I also doubt Obama could have changed the final House bill much, given how close the vote was, and given that the biggest weakness in the bill — the 2020 target, which requires only a 17% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels — is (technically) stronger than what Obama campaigned on [I will have to do a separate post on how Obama can legitimately argue for a stronger target]. That said, Obama’s activism will be crucial to Senate passage of a serious energy and climate bill.
And that said, in his short time in office, Obama has so far vastly exceeded all reasonable expectations, particularly on “energy action.” His stimulus bill (and budget) increased clean energy funding more than every previous president combined in the past 3 decades (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!” and “Progressives, Obama keep promise to jumpstart clean energy, economy.”). His actions in the transportation sector alone represent the single biggest push toward greenhouse gas reductions and efficent vehicles in US history (see “Obama to raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2“).
Ms. Tolkan said that her organization was hoping to take that point home to the Democratic Party before the midterm elections. “Those who played a leadership role in weakening this bill will feel the wrath of youth political power across the country,” she said. “2010 is not that far away.”
If that is an accurate quote — that is, if that quote is in fact aimed at Democrats trying to craft a bill that would barely pass, as opposed to, say, those Members who always opposed any action — then, as I’ve said, it represents woefully misdirected anger.
Energy Action is a Coalition of 50 organizations — listed here — and I certainly hope they aren’t all going to waste their time campaigning against Members who voted for this bill. If so, the group should change its name to “Energy Inaction,” since Waxman-Markey would generate more clean energy action than any piece of legislation passed by any country in the history of the world!
But I have another issue with Energy Action, since it is a group that in fact mostly does quite good work and thus probably is too smart to waste its time on such counterproductive activity. On the first page of their website, they feature “Energy Action Blogs” — and the blog they feature is “It’s Getting Hot in Here.” Now that otherwise fine blog regularly features posts trashing Waxman-Markey by staffers at The Breakthrough Institute (TBI), the home of anti-environmental, anti-climate disinformation:
- Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up
- S&N go after Obama by recycling GOP talking points
- The dynamic duo of disinformation and doubletalk return
- Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute
Worse, one of TBI’s leading disinformers, Jesse Jenkins, is listed as the “Policy Editor” for “It’s Getting Hot in Here” — with an out-of-date bio that makes no mention whatsoever of his connection to TBI, even though he is Climate & Energy Policy Director at TBI.
Now if “It’s Getting Hot in Here” and “Energy Action” want to undermine their credibility by publishing easily debunked disinformation and bad analysis by Jenkins and TBI, that is their business. Same if they want to be directly linked to a group who has issued brazen lies about President Obama and Waxman-Markey, like “Supporters of the legislation tout its $1 billion investment in clean energy R&D “” that’s one-fifteenth of what President Obama promised, and one-thirtieth of what energy scientists said in an open letter last year would be needed” — which I debunked here: “The Breakthrough Institute is lying about Obama, misstating what CBO concluded about Waxman-Markey, and publishing deeply flawed analyses. They have become radioactive “” uncitable by any serious journalist or policy analyst.”
But Energy Action is now publicly attacking Waxman-Markey because it is supposedly far too weak to solve the climate problem. Perhaps they are utterly unaware that TBI and Jenkins have repeatedly opposed even far weaker efforts to deal with climate. TBI has attacked any policy that creates a serious price for carbon — whether cap-and-trade or a tax. Indeed, S&N have written “cap and trade regulations, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to trade reductions, cannot work in the U.S.” And they have attacked the possibility of using strong regulations to reduce emissions. Nordhaus even admitted on CP, “We have argued for five years now that efforts to build the clean energy economy needed to be centrally defined around energy independence not global warming.” Climate science activists they ain’t.
Indeed, in the same June TBI press call notification about a “Telephone Briefing [by Jenkins and Nordhaus] on New Quantitative Analyses of Waxman Markey climate legislation” that included the brazen lie about Obama cited above, The Breakthrough Institute states:
We support a cap and trade policy that:
1) Auctions 100 percent of the pollution allowances;
2) Sets the price for carbon dioxide at between $8 – $12/ton, using safety valves;
3) Does not allow offsetting; and
4) Dedicates all the money from revenues (between $48 bi and $72 bi per year) to technology innovation.
That’s right. TBI supports a policy that would
- Probably get no votes whatsoever in either House of Congress — since it raises energy prices a little across the board but doesn’t give a nickel of it back to consumers, businesses, or low income households.
- Does nothing whatsoever to stop new coal plants — and in fact encourages them by removing from the table a shrinking cap that renders new dirty coal plants unprofitable.
- Does not offer any strategy in the near-, medium, or long-term for beating the 2.5 to 3 cents a kWh cost of existing coal. As I think is rather obvious to anybody but The Breakthrough Institute, all the “breakthroughs” in the world can’t make a new zero carbon power plant cheaper than an existing coal plant (see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion“).
- And fails to mandate targets that would allow international negotiations with other countries as part of either the UNFCCC process at Copenhagen or a bilateral agreement with China.
This proposal is a joke, an insult to genuine climate science advocates. No one advancing it has any business criticizing Waxman-Markey.
Now Energy Action or anyone else can certainly attack Waxman-Markey as being too weak. I do it all the time. They can even devote their time to defeating members of Congress who voted for this bill, if that floats their boat (while sinking ours). But to do so honestly, they have to articulate and fight for far stronger legislation than Waxman-Markey — preferably legislation that they can show has a realistic chance of becoming law anytime soon (see “The two most important questions that both critics and supporters of Waxman-Markey must answer“).
Energy Action and “It’s Getting Hot in Here” can’t do that as long as they are pimping for The Breakthrough Institute.