What mistakes did the environmental community and progressive politicians make in the climate bill fight

And how do you apportion blame among all parties?

The pro-action side made a number of mistakes, as I’ve said many times.  Here are three:

  • Failure to create a grassroots movement that could seriously cost an opposing politician (as, say, the NRA can).
  • Messaging flaws, especially by Obama, who simply didn’t use the bully pulpit to make his case to the public.
  • Inadequate Senate strategy

Of course, making mistakes is not the same thing as shouldering most of the blame.  Let’s not fall into the trap of the “blame the victim”  counterfactual historians.

As I discussed in my June 30 post (“Republicans demagogue against market-oriented climate measures they once supported“), most of the blame should go to the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues. They have spread disinformation and poisoned the debate so that is no longer even recognizable.  Who could have guessed just  a couple of years ago, that the GOP  champion of climate action would end up trashing a bill comparable to the one he tried to pass twice?

And the media is the second most culpable group for their generally enabling coverage, which goes far beyond the science miscoverage “” see Must-read (again) study: How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics “” “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.” Indeed, there was an overall collapse in coverage of the story of the century (see  Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010).

Those two groups deserve about 90% of the blame (60-30?), I think (assuming that we assume the 60 vote antidemocratic super majority requirement is unchangeable).

Let’s not forget the “Think Small” centrists and lukewarmers who also helped shrink the political space in the debate (see “Michael Lind of the New America Foundation misinforms on both climate science and clean energy” and “Brookings embraces American Enterprise Institute’s climate head fake along with right-wing energy myths“).  Let’s give them 5%.

So ‘only’ 5% of blame goes to Obama and his team (along with Senate Democrats, scientists, environmentalists, and progressives) — see The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2: He let die our best chance to preserve a livable climate and restore US leadership in clean energy — without a serious fight.

I have more  thoughts on the mistakes of the climate advocates,  but I’m interested in hearing yours first.

What mistakes did the environmental community and  progressive politicians make in the climate bill fight?  And how do you apportion blame among groups on both side?

NOTE:  Please, no counterfactual history, such as claiming the proponents should  have talked more about clean energy and energy security — that’s ALL most talked about (see Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?)  Of that they should have pursued a strategy that had bipartisan and popular support — they did (see Why did environmentalists pursue cap-and-trade and was it a doomed strategy?)

49 Responses to What mistakes did the environmental community and progressive politicians make in the climate bill fight

  1. Meme says:

    Main mistake by activists was constantly hoping for better. No, we dont want c&t, we want a carbon tax, we want revenue sharing, no the EPA can do it all. All that split energy went 6 different ways. Main mistake politicians made it was not communicating how important that vote was.

  2. NeilT says:

    Well Joe, as you know from my posts, my take is different from all of the above.

    The reason the whole Climate Change debate is being so badly mauled is because Scientists are the one’s communicating the issue and Politicians and Lobbyists are countering it.

    To most scientific communication on Climate Change, there is no such thing as Yes and No; there is only an infinite array of shades of grey, if and but.

    [JR: The flaw in your analysis is that the public supported the bill.]
    Simply that is not a communication point. It is a way of being crucified by people with an agenda.

    You cannot use the Bully Pulpit to push an agenda when the poeple providing the information for that agenda are “seen to be” constantly equivocating. Because they will not stick a stake in the ground and say

    “this is a marker we have crossed and everything that now happens is because we crossed it”.

    Ordinary people don’t want to hear about 300 year storms happening eveyr 100 years. They want to hear that their lives will get better or worse depending on their actions.

    Ordinary people want to hear “If you don’t do this Right Now, then your life will get worse, every single year, starting Right Now”.

    And if you find yourself sitting there thinking “but that is what we have been saying for a decade”, then you won’t understand what I’m talking about and will point the finger in every direction but the one in which it belongs.

  3. Peter M says:

    All of the above. Failure of our community to develop an Organization from the ground up- (though I think we are learning from our mistakes) And working with those under 30, who seem to be more concerned about climate change.

    The Message has been poor. With a media- controlled by powerful special interests that are mostly against us- we need to follow the example of MLK- Peaceful non violent action. We may get arrest as Dr. Hansen- but in time we will become recognized by a media who is critical of us.

    Obama has shown little leadership on any issue- his failure thus far in confronting the far right in an effective way has crippled our cause and of progressives everywhere.

  4. Anne says:

    No arguments with the reasons put forth here, but, I see a much bigger, more systemic, cultural problem at root. The years of corporate advertising combined with the ease of using oil for transport and coal for lights and appliances combined with a rapidly declining public education system combined with the wealth/class divide — has all worked together – with other factors as well — to create a giant cluster-f#ck that is very difficult to untangle and even to navigate. The entire equation feels intractable to me now, whereas it did not even 10, 15 years ago. An aggressive intervention, a mother of a crisis, or some other “step change” has got to occur before we will take climate change seriously. Indeed, the frog will stay in the pot until it boils, it seems.

  5. David says:

    Why not have the politicians spreading false information and making untrue claims in Congress tried for perjury?

  6. Nick Bentley says:

    There was an interesting article in the New Republic recently on the topic, offering much food for thought:

    One point that caught my eye:

    “After Barack Obama got elected, every major policy issue became subject to trench warfare. The Affordable Care Act squeaked through the Senate without a single GOP vote. Financial regulation, which was overwhelmingly popular with the public, only barely wiggled through Congress. In this same vein, cap-and-trade passed the House but fell just short in the Senate (it might have garnered 51 votes, but it couldn’t get the 60 required to overcome a filibuster). It seems misguided to suggest that climate change became a uniquely toxic policy issue, when the difference between it and health care or financial regulation amounted to a few measly votes. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to see how any other approach—say, one centered around spending billions of dollars on energy innovation, or a big grassroots approach—would have been any more successful.”

  7. Roger says:

    What we had (and have) here is a failure to communicate.

    Much as I respect Obama, I also see the failure to communicate as a failure of leadership. Yes, Obama should have (and still should) use his bully pulpit to get the important and urgent climate message out. Americans are far too preoccupied to “get” a novel and stealthy problem such as human climate change unless their leader makes it evident.

    The other 95% you assign, Joe, relates to pure and simple human greed.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    That’s a good summary, Joe.

    There have been a number of tactical errors, deliberate or not. Your point about failure to extract a political cost for Congressional deniers is an important one. The Democrats hardly raise the issue at all, and advocacy groups want to keep climate change a non partisan issue- which it no longer is. The Republicans now own global warming denial. Let’s call them on it, and if a few Blue Dogs go down, that’s OK too. All serious NGO’s (this does not include some of the big ones) need to go on the political offensive, and not just issue position papers.

    Progressives don’t understand that politics is drama, and the public likes a good fight. There hasn’t been this perfect a cast of villains since the 1850’s, and some of them even seem to revel in it, including letting seniors starve and go without adequate medical care. Telling the public how dangerous they are to this country should not be left to Markey and Sanders, as if this were a radical position. The oil and media company owners are the radicals.

    I also agree about the media’s failure here, especially since colonial America was stirred to action by broadsheets. People found more important printed news in 1775 Boston than in 2011 New York or Houston, and they were stirred by it. Now, we have the most important story in history, and the media has abdicated.

    My two solutions are

    1.Let the Democrats know that progressive voters are going to stay home if they keep supporting fracking and coal mining. Make this stand a formal position paper.

    2. Move toward establishing a progressive and fact based media company, instead of bits and pieces on cable. Even Maddow talks about abortion about 200 times as much as she talks about global warming. This new media company should be science based, and include scientists on staff, not just for occasional interviews. Political writers should be quality historians, not glorified gossip columnists. The attitude should be to enjoy antagonizing those who are destroying this country.

    The new media company will cost a lot of money, possibly into the billions of dollars. I still rate the probability of that happening higher than the Democrats getting heart transplants.

  9. The problem was not a failure to create a strong grassroots network, but rather a failure to use it. The environmental movement invested tens of millions of dollars in a powerful grassroots network that includes more than 10 million members ans supporters, thousands of paid organizers, and hundreds of thousands of committed activists. We organized not only deep green activists, but high profile grasstops including businessmen, veterans, union members, Republicans, faith leaders, and government officials at every level. Unfortunately, this network was used only to tug on the sleeve of political leaders – to earnestly urge them to pass climate legislation or even goals as vague as creating a clean energy future.

    They were rarely used to put real political pressure on politicians, particularly wavering Democrats. There weren’t protests outside congressional offices, or blistering op-eds, just gentle rallies and meetings (and the same is true for advertising). Recently, when the environmental movement did unleash its power on President Obama and Harry Reid, they got results. After Sierra Club, LCV and others issued blistering attacks against Democrats, the Democrats stopped using the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts as bargaining chips and said they wouldn’t accept rollbacks as the price of a budget deal. Unlike the gay rights movement, we never had our major donors cut off their support to the DNC. Nonetheless, we won’t have real teeth until we start much bigger civil disobedience efforts and primary Democrats in pro-environment states like Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown, and Debbie Stabenow for their outright assaults on the Clean Air Act and other environmental priorities. We can take them on, but right now we rarely even try.

    The environmental movement has many powerful levers to pull – it’s just that we rarely pull them.

  10. Andy heninger says:

    I put the blame almost completely with the large energy companies and their all too effective campaign to stop any action that might alter their ongoing business. I suspect that most of the republicans that have changed their tune over the last several years actually know better, but they’ve simply been bought, and/or placed in a politically untenable position by the success of industry propaganda.

    Poor press coverage is being bought through the influence of advertising dollars. Again, I suspect many editors and reporters have a pretty good handle on what’s going on.

    It all comes back to money and greed and our dysfunctional political system.

  11. Wes Rolley says:

    The alternative is there, if progressives and enviros would us it. I helped elect a Democrat in the supposedly safe Richard Pombo District (good riddance to that one). But, if that Democrat does not do more, I will recruit and advise a Green to run against him.

    Yes, it is the threat to allow Democrats to scream about Nader again, but that is one way to get some attention.

  12. Sunshine says:

    I can’t speak to what went wrong, but can suggest a resource/idea that might improve chances of a bill passing in the next 5-10 years with the type of critical thinking and communication skills described in the 20 minute TED talk – “World Peace Game” by Albemarle County (VA) school teacher John Hunter.

  13. The Wonderer says:

    I agree except that you should not be using past tense, and would say that an effective #1 where at least some national politician’s job security and prospects depended on their position on global warming, would go a long way towards solving #2 and 3.

  14. Barry says:

    I put half the blame on the disengaged and distracted public.

    The lack of grassroots movements…the lack of political penalty for killing off climate solutions…the fear by Obama of even mentioning “climate change” in his big speeches…all come back to a public that cares very lightly about the climate threats so far.

    The GOP have exploited this to help Big Fossil stay in control of our pocketbooks and legislature and future climate, sadly. But there will always be those voices. The pathetic thing to me is that the American public is so absent from such a crucial threat to their own future.

  15. Barry says:

    On the plus side, the carbon footprint of the average American has been falling for years and is now down to levels not seen since the 1960s.

    This seems to me to be the result of the de-facto carbon tax we have in USA on oil and coal.

    At $90/barrel the average American spends $1,000 a year ($4k per family) on imported oil. That is $1.3t over four years and close to half the national trade deficit. That has real costs. The rising price of oil is the best climate policy USA has right now.

    As far as coal, Joe has reported on numerous studies showing the external costs of coal pollution in USA which works out to around $50 to $250 per tonne of CO2.

    Coal is also one place where enviros, NIMBY, and local politics have been able to make a big dent. People are more able to get upset about a big physical belching beast like a coal plant than the invisible threat of CO2.

    So while we don’t have a lot of national action we do have progress on CO2 in some key areas.

  16. Joan Savage says:

    Maybe it’s a good thing that my previous efforts got bumped, and I hope it was because spam filters avoid floating IP addresses, and not due to content.

    My own congressional representative and senators voted solidly for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, so there was not much ado on a local level.

    Otherwise, climate change had not risen to a bus-to-Ohio threshold for reaching swing states. The too-many options mentioned by Meme (#1) was a factor. If a bus to Ohio or the like is waiting for volunteers, what would be clear and simple talking points?

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    The opponents of climate change action are simply too rich and powerful, IMO- so far.

    The politicians haven’t done that badly. Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats including Waxman and Markey have been just great. Obama hasn’t been bad, and Chu is an outstanding choice as Energy Secretary.

    If ExxonMobil was a country, it would be the fifth largest carbon emitting country on earth. ExxonMobil thinks, apparently, that melting the Arctic would be a good thing for them, opening up access to Arctic resources including oil and immense supplies of natural gas. A series of op-eds and Congressional testimony by Scott Borgerson of the Council on Foreign Relations touting Arctic resources seems to support this assertion. Scott Borgerson is a David Rockefeller fellow at the CFR think tank.

    I believe myself that ExxonMobil is still controlled by the Rockefeller family, especially by David Rockefeller. If you pay attention to which faction wins the proxy fights for control of the corporation…the Rockefeller faction always wins. Publicly the family is in favor of more environmental responsibility…but the Rockefeller family has a long, long, long history of secrecy and deliberate deception.

    So, a lot of the top policy of our Eastern financial elite may be set or heavily influenced by one ninety year old man- David Rockefeller. David Rockefeller also apparently dominates the Council on Foreign Relations, founded the Trilateral Commission, and co-founded the Bilderberg group. At every annual Bilderberg meeting, David Rockefeller apparently shows up about three days ahead to oversee the organization of the meetings. The Rockefeller family also has a long historical association with both the CIA and its precursor, the OSS.

    We’ve lost control of our news media, and our entertainment media. Just about everything we see on cable TV is slanted, subtly or openly.

    Our opponents have used very clever psychological techniques, some of them used by the CIA to overthrow foreign governments. They have built a web of information laundering think tanks and websites, which continually drive home hundreds of deceptive talking points, a list of which is available on Skeptical Science

    Also, we have failed to come up with a good technological solution to the problem. Clean Energy is fine and useful and necessary, but to get back to 350 ppm we actually have to put carbon back underground.

    BECCS could do that, but the political left doesn’t like BECCS because of deep injection of CO2 and because it would involve harvesting of biomass, and the political right will only be pushed into “clean coal” kicking and screaming, and resists change in general. The technological problem of what to do with the CO2 from Carbon Capture and Storage has not been solved to the satisfaction of most people, so far.

  18. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Future

    I’m not sure that it’s a helpful exercise to try to assign “blame” as if it’s “one thing” and must add up to 100 percent. That sort of thinking RISKS confusing very different matters. Of course the committed deniers and the people taking money from the coal and oil companies, and blocking progress, are the most blameworthy in one important sense. But thinking of ourselves as only 5% blameworthy does very little — and is likely to be counterproductive — when it comes to helping us understand our own “complicity” (through passivity, ineffectiveness, and etc.) and, most importantly, when it comes to helping and compelling us to dramatically improve our motivation, verve, strategies, and tactics.

    Of course, I DO agree that it helps, a lot, to understand our mistakes and other sources of our ineffectiveness. That’s one of the necessary steps to doing much better in the future — hopefully starting soon.

    The sources and causes of our own ineffectiveness, unfortunately, are deep and numerous. The sources are way deeper than our tactics. Our problematic and ineffective tactics are, in many cases, the results of misunderstanding, bad assumptions, and incorrect paradigms. We are still trying to change the direction of a fast-moving freight train by doing the equivalent of softly whistling in the wind, and we aren’t even being creative at our whistling. Nor are we appealing with vitality and verve to organizations, institutions, and individuals who SHOULD be on our side. Nor are we cooperating much with each other.

    Think about it, e.g., just a few of the symptoms: With virtually ALL of the major bona fide scientific organizations in agreement that climate change is real, caused primarily by human influences, deeply problematic, increasingly dangerous, and so forth, the President, the Democratic party, and WE can’t even seem to make that case to the public, with verve and (due) passion and effectiveness. That in itself is a deep problem that we haven’t even admitted to yet, really. And there’s this sort of thing: Even though CAP is full of brilliant and presumably influential Democratic and Progressive thought-leaders, it is not being effective at actually influencing a Democratic Administration nearly enough. And then there’s this: The oil companies talk out of both sides of their mouths so much, they actually GIVE US the ammunition for effectiveness (against them) quite often, but we often don’t see it or use it well. And these are just a few of the small examples. The roots of our ineffectiveness go even deeper.

    Regarding cooperation: I’ve asked and offered, repeatedly, to get together with any leaders of the relevant movements who would like to get together while here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or I’ll go to Washington to meet, for free, if one of the organizations will pick up my travel costs. But so far, all I’ve gotten from the main organizations are e-mails to ask for me to periodically contact a politician or put my name on some sort of petition, requests for contributions, or requests to join in on some sort of activity that was planned months earlier. Not one organization has listened to, or has been interested in listening to, observations about what’s going wrong and ideas about what we’ll need to do.

    The problems are too deep to try to list here. And anyway, the main ones probably can’t be conveyed well, or explained well, in sound-bites. And also, when it comes to diagnosing the problems and identifying actual ideas and improvements, to some degree (at least with some of them) it might be best not to do all that in a forum where “the other side” can watch. I’m not talking about obvious sorts of statements where there’s no need to try to keep them to ourselves because they’re obvious anyhow and don’t mean much: ‘we need to organize better’. Instead, I’m talking about meaningful assessments, meaningful new strategies, meaningful new ideas and tactics. In such cases, it’s often the case that it’s helpful not to share them with “the other side” too early. That’s why armies don’t share their strategies and tactics with opposing armies, and why sports teams don’t either.

    I’m available to meet or talk. So I’ll offer again. If you happen to be a leader of a climate organization/movement, or related environmental organization/movement, and find yourself in the SF Bay Area, contact me and we’ll get together.

    Be Well,


  19. Chris Winter says:

    I have to agree with Glenn Hurowitz (#9): Environmental groups have strong grassroots power in their memberships which — for whatever reason — they have not used to full effect.

    Also, Obama had a magnificent grassroots campaign organization which, after winning, he has apparently neglected.

    On a technical note, Web page organization is today an important part of messaging. What does it say about the White House Web site when, after submitting a comment, you get a “Page not found” error?

  20. Chris Winter says:

    But the ultimate reason may simply be the aversion to confrontation that most Democrats display. I recall Bill Clinton remarking on this during his campaign. The reluctance he noted remains, and is just as inexplicable.

  21. JCH says:

    Charging into the open during a very strong La Nina.

  22. I agree largely with what Joe Romm and Glenn Hurowitz said.

    And I respectfully have to disagree with Barry (#14). Even if most of the US public aren’t interested in climate change, even so, this is simply no excuse for activists to do nothing about it! Activists may not represent the whole population, but surely a group of 10,000 people can make quite a difference, if only it’s used well. Blaming ‘the American public’ at large sounds, to me, too much like a cop-out.

    * * *

    And on the subject of the media being the second most culpable group: That’s why I place great importance — and hope — in Climate Progress‘s announcement that they’ll be doing some investigative journalism. In my mind, having someone who does investigative work as part of his day job can make a significant difference. Joe, do take note.


  23. It’s not the media, the right, Obama, big oil or others listed as the usual suspects that we need to focus on in efforts to understand the failure to pass legislation, how the issue has become so partisan, or why deniers continue to get traction. It’s down to understanding how the underlying belief systems which create these divides in the first place work. Highly recommend Chris Mooneys piece “The Science of why we don’t believe Science” to provide some insights.

    If we are to have a real effect on the debate, I think we need to better understand it’s underlying roots.

  24. John Blair says:

    I hold lots of respect for both Henry Waxman and Ed Markey but they seemed hell bent on making climate legislation so complex and unruly that it was an easy target for the right. And, their verbose complexity of the bill that was finally offered made passage impossible from the start.

    Chris Van Holland’s Carbon Tax bill and its near companion, the bi-partisan Cantwell Collins bill that were not even given a chance for explanation let alone a vote made it more certain that climate legislation would see the the bottom of the trash can in the 111th congress.

    The Cantwell Collins measure was readable, easy to understand and bi-partisan but Senate leadership would not allow it to move and after it became clear that the Senate would not eve vote on climate legislation at all, chances for passage of anything were dashed.

    A carbon Tax coupled with rebates of most, if not all of the revenue to US citizens makes huge sense. In fact, I call it a “freedom” tax since it allows people who insist on wasting carbon based energy to continue to waste but pay a price for doing so. Surely at some point those selfish people will even come to realize the arrogance and stupidity of their habits.

    In any case, who were we kidding when it came to Obama? He hailed from a coal state and was primary sponsor of a bill that call for converting coal to liquid fuels and had incessant support for more coal from the beginning of his federal career.

    But most enviros inside the beltway embraced Obama as an environmental messiah they hoped would bring the change that was sorely needed after eight years of Bush/Cheney.

    Sometimes enviros are their own enemy, especially in the political arena. They extract no commitments from the people endorse, opting instead for what they hope will be a seat at the table when decisions are made. Most of the time that does not even happen and when it does those at the table co-opt the rest of us. The occasional bone that is thrown our way allows them to claim credit for accomplishing something that is less than needed to deal with the problem.

  25. Mossy says:

    #1, Meme, nailed it. Our environmental community, comprised of strong, intelligent, independent thinkers, argued amongst ourselves. There were groups urging defeat of WM because it was too weak, and groups urging support, since it’s all we could reasonably accomplish. And progressives, including Obama, didn’t clearly lay our the stakes of not acting.

    However, 99% of the failure is due to the monied interests and their vastly pervasive media, lobbying, and funding campaigns. When all the odds are stacked against us, it’s very difficult to win. Personally, I resent hearing about any failure blamed the environmental community, as I feel that we really did the best we could. The system is totally broken, and by system I am referring to the media’s messaging and funding, corporate influence, political funding, capitalism’s dogma of continued growth, etc.

  26. Neal J. King says:

    I think Obama should have pushed on climate change before trying to take on health-care insurance reform.

    I also think that Steve Chu should have pushed (and should be pushing) on the scientific case for global warming much, much more than he has. He should be kicking the denialists’ teeth down their throats: What’s the point of having a Nobel Laureate as Secretary of Energy if he can’t pull “rank”?

    (I know that isn’t the way that scientists think – but it IS the way the public thinks. And we are well into a PR war.)

  27. john atcheson says:

    To me, this failure is part of a larger one. Specifically, allowing conservatives to paint government as the incompetent enemy, rather than the vehicle we use to accomplish great things together, is what has prevented us from persuading people to accept evidence from scientists and government.

    Similarly, allowing claims that the “magic free-market” will solve all our problems by pure serendipity has made the call for solutions fall on deaf ears. Why seek a solution if the market provides all good things automatically?

    These twin myths — the myth of the bumbling bureaucrats and the myth of the magic markets — undermine people’s faith in government and their belief in its findings — and moreover, suggest that such interventions aren’t necessary.

    IN this context, attempts to act on global warming are doomed, and they will remain doomed until this broader belief system is challenged.

  28. dp says:

    only the federal government can eat the costs of transformation, but beltway and wall street conventional wisdom rejects the ‘pay greening bill now, reap macro benefits later’ program, essentially because it lowers property values on coal plants, and empowers regulators. until that huckster mindset gets pushed out, i don’t feel like we who want greening (or any kind of public goods improvements) can do a lot more than stamp our feet.

  29. Frank says:

    Personally, I believe the biggest mistake the green community made was believing that this would be easy to accomplish. In the midst of all the other distractions, particularly the financial collapse and recession, isn’t it incredibly naive for activists to think that a culture that places such a low value on science education would be able to grasp such concepts as carbon sequestration, cap and trade, and global warming? Moving forward, wouldn’t it be wiser to continue to focus on concrete energy efficency, sustainability program, and renewable energy INCENTIVES of all kinds, BOTH consumer and corporate? Finally, the Amerian public clearly grasps the new mpg ratings on vehicles. Why doesn’t the entire “Green” community combine it’s energies to promote a single piece of legislation that convenes a panel of experts to develop a btu of purchased energy per square foot per heating/cooling degree day rating system for all types of buildings in the U.S., BOTH NEW AND EXISTING?

  30. Will G. says:

    I guess the mistake we made is thinking we could get something done without a massive and organized grassroots push. I was at Power Shift, and in my opinion this push is coming.

    Also I agree with Wes Rolley (#11) and the sentiment of David Roberts (Grist) that its time to collect some political climate “scalps”, meaning we can no longer vote for dirty air democrats like McCaskill and Obama. We have to devote our time and money exclusively to legitimate climate champions. Here’s hoping Kucinich runs in 2012.

  31. Mary bolton says:

    In short, I feel the enviro movement needs to be building broad coalitions with themselves and other groups (church, labor, etc) and from that platform seriously educate people about the details of the problem and the solutions. Single-issue oriented groups, doing their own thing, are helpful but not adequate. We need an informed, broad-based constituency to be able to focus attention on the problems and solutions. Need to get cracking–folks are way, way behind. Peace and green.

  32. paulm says:

    The only way obama or any other politician/leader will be able to do anything, anything effectively in the window available is to declare a state of extra ordinary emergency and immediately start a intensive program to stop emissions and implement a plan to start drawing down co2.

    There is no other solution. Between the nonbelievers, deniers, avoiders, and delayers, there isn’t any other mechanism to address the problem. They will not accept the danger and immediacy of the problem.

    Sad times.

  33. There are many interesting ideas above, but most of them do not convey the time-criticality of fighting GW. It is very hard to accept the urgency of this issue since it is unlike any thing humanity faced before.

    Despite being an environmental scientist with decades of work in technology, including wind energy, it took me several years of soul searching to start to grasp the enormity of this human dilemma. We must internalize that Global warming is the most significant event of all human civilization, and therefore we are unable to deal with it emotionally. We think and write as if we have time to select alternatives, to wait for the political process to move, but we do not.

    Even the most ardent fighters against global warming, with few exceptions, did not yet internalize the reality of this unique period humanity is in. We must grasp that all the normal forces of nature are moving in the opposite direction that humanity needs: to slow down even slightly the accelerating warming of the planet.

    We are unable to change significantly the following direction:
    A finite Earth with rapidly increasing population, wanting higher standard of living, demanding more energy, mostly fossil, generating huge amount of CO2, warming the planet, melting its ice coverage, causing positive feedback that may lead to catastrophic release of additional global warming gases.
    And against this reality we argue if it is more effective to be polite to the president, among other things.

    Again, we the people who are strongly concerned about the impacts of GW are not able to grasp, to internalize, yet, the severity of the emergency we are in.
    You may want to read:

  34. Sunshine says:

    Whatever it was or wasn’t that brought down the climate bill, it’s not hard to imagine the broken hearts and tears from the spirits of the departed heroes featured or discussed in this film: Earth Days (2 hours in length)

  35. Shelley Ottenbrite says:

    I realize you are all scientists and therefore think a logical argument will win out. It does. But your argument: Save the Earth loses to the more palpable argument: Save American and political power.

    The situation is that the United States has built all its empire on a foundation of oil. Our international power and the supporting military are based on the primacy of the oil industry. The whole American governmental system functions cohesively to defend and suck up the right to oil. It’s practically tautological.

    While Obama and many Republicans understand climate change science perfectly well, their primary job is to protect the oil industry. Glen Greenwald at Salon has explained why Obama’s anti-life actions are rational. It isn’t a matter of “liking” Obama and pushing for changed messaging. Obama is messaging exactly what he wants to message and he has been extremely successful.

    Scientists have explained the problem clearly. The political leadership is bright enough. The objective is just not the same, despite the truth that carbon and greenhouse gas emission control must be mandated from the federal level.

    I know scientists aren’t super interested in the peace movement. If they want carbon control action, however, it is imperative to wrest control away from the industrial military corporation. This kind of behavior is alien to scientific interest which is why you have not figured it out.

    There is a supposition that the US military is subservient to a civilian government, but in reality, this subservience, if it ever existed, was lost long ago.

    Until we are no longer the United States of oil supremacy, there will be no governmental climate change action.

    Anyway, I just want to let scientists off the hook regarding all that hand-wringing self-reflection and self blame. It is not your fault for using scientific terms and always including a little doubt in your conclusions. The very bright people in power really do understand what you have to say. It’s very sweet of you to take responsibility, but it is also naive.

  36. paulm says:

    18mins into vid….Hansen & Hertshaard… Hansen says he thinks that the Republicans might actually be a better bet at addressing GW… once they realize this situation, which will come….hopefully soon….

  37. One more Mike says:

    Glenn @ comment 9 makes some good points but it isn’t just Democrats the environment movement should be targeting, it’s Republicans too.

    The environment movement should take a leaf out of the NRA’s book and start getting involved in Republican primaries, especially in “pro-environment” states or districts where clean energy and green jobs could bring a lot of benefit.

    Between the filibuster in the senate and the low chance of democrats having a big enough majority to force action anytime soon, any action will require republican support, which means targeting them too.

  38. Climate Warrior says:

    This post made me think of the serenity prayer — Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    The only way we will make change is by working on what we CAN change. We can’t control the fossil fuel lobby, we can’t control the ideologues, we can’t control people who cannot and will not understand science, we cannot control greed, and we cannot control nature’s response to humanity’s release of so many greenhouse gas emissions. We shouldn’t waste any time on all of that. We must accept that all — the 90% that Joe describes — exists and move on, second by frustrating second, to where we can make a change and do that work with unending courage (I am mostly talking to myself here; sorry if I sound preachy at all.)

    I believe there is much we can change. I am coming to the conclusion that my next piece of work lies with the grassroots movement, which I think can quickly extend and does already exist at the grass tops. I believe there are many powerful politicians and business people and rulers of countries and faith leaders, etc., who understand deeply that we are on a path of grave destruction. They need a strong, strong movement from the people to support them. I believe they are ready to do the right thing.

    I am one of those grass tops in my community, one of the decision makers on policy. I have been making real change on energy and climate, but I often look around and no on – NO ONE – is standing with me. It gets lonely, and it gets hard, and sometimes I cannot make the difference on my own. I must have the community with me.

    Wisdom. I am glad we are debating all of this. It helps me come to the wisdom of what I can actually change, with ongoing courage to do it, and to let go of the rest.

  39. Marion Delgado says:

    I don’t think evolutionary biologists did substantially better than we did. Proponents of vaccination did, but it was quite a struggle and not one with a paradigm specifically allied with the GOP. My pet hate is the fake environmentalists who piped up on Exxon-Mobil’s dime to tell lies and trash environmentalism.

  40. Mark Darrall says:

    Joe, another mistake you failed to mention was the enviros’ propensity toward navel-staring, placing blame and basically talking too much and not acting enough. Would it not be better to focus instead on keeping moving forward with real productive action?

    Climate Warrior hits the nail on the head. There’s a lot of talking and blog posting and infighting and purity tests, but when it comes time to roll up the sleeves and do something, one is often found to be alone in the fight.

    We need to be active and vocal, get ourselves into positions where we can make change in our communities.

    Keep up the good work, Joe. We need you to keep us aware of what’s going on, especially to the extent it drives us to ACTION.


  41. Sailesh Rao says:

    Shelley Ottenbrite #36, nailed it. We can’t expect the leader of Western civilization to publicly acknowledge the train wreck that it is and transform it from within. As Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

  42. madcitysmitty says:

    We failed to find a significant Republican champion in both houses.

  43. John McCormick says:

    RE # 8

    Mike, it is rare I find fault in your comment but the following is an exception and I hope my retort can be seen as reasoned and based on the reality of US national politics.

    Your solution #1

    1.Let the Democrats know that progressive voters are going to stay home if they keep supporting fracking and coal mining.

    OK. All House and Senate Democrats stand up and say no to coal mining and no to fracking. What is the outcome? Congressional Dems cannot prevent coal mining and their opposition could only be effected by a Congressional ban on exisitng/new coal mining. Not going to happen.

    With fracking, there is a slight hope that governors will oppose that gas extraction method where citizens and county commissioners ban to oppose it. House and Senate Dems cannot send a bill to the President that outlaws fracking…they don’t have the votes to get it out of a House Committee.

    So, what are House and Senate Dems as we act out our idle threat to stay home on election day. 23 Senate Dems are up for reelection in 2012 versus 10 senate repugs.

    Do we risk losing the Senate also because we Progressives did not get Congressional Dems to shut down coal and fracking?

    Mike, you don’t wish that on America do you?

    John McCormick

  44. Andy Hultgren says:

    Climate Warrier #39,

    Very elequently put. I myself am given to much talking before acting. And I am not counting calling/emailing Obama and congressional reps as “acting.”

    I am talking about protesting. Non-violent civil disobedience. The public will not understand that climate change is an imminent threat unless they see people actually reacting to an imminent threat! If all we do is talk, then we communicate that the “threat” is not all that threatening.

    Groups organizing acts of civil disobedience:

  45. Kasra says:

    Something of this magnitude should be driven by the bully pulpit. This is not just health care or financial reform. This is reinventing the infrastructure of the most massive economy that has ever existed.

    The reason the bully pulpit is so powerful is because it forces the public dialogue to shift in whatever direction the speaker chooses. It’s not just about Obama pushing an issue on the public and making his case. People begin talking about and thinking about the climate (for better or worse), pundits take up the topic intensely (for better or worse), the media starts turning over the talking points (for better or worse), and all the while the topic moves out of wonkdom and back into the public sphere. Anybody who’s anybody will take notice. If done right, it’s an adrenaline shot of publicity.

    Grass roots could do a lot of leg work, but the bully pulpit — one big, beautiful speech that clearly defines what we face in coming decades and redefines the debate between right and left — could instantly push the topic into the mainstream. Right where it belongs.

  46. John McCormick says:

    RE # 46

    You comment that “Something of this magnitude should be driven by the bully pulpit.”

    Wikipedia describes bully pulpit:

    A bully pulpit is a public office or other position of authority of sufficiently high rank that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter. The bully pulpit can bring issues to the forefront that were not initially in debate, due to the office’s stature and publicity.

    This term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit,” by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning “superb” or “wonderful” (a more common expression in his time than it is today).

    So, anyone with the street cred to command public attention and understands climate change has their chance to give that “one big, beautiful speech that clearly defines what we face in coming decades and redefines the debate between right and left”.

    It could be General Powell, Bruce Springstein, Bill Clinton, Warren Buffett, former Senator John Warner, Billy Graham, President Obama. One bully speech would not suffice. Marketers believe a consumer has to hear the message at least 13 times before it is taken seriously. Climate progress is not the venue for such speeches. Network television time can be purchased.

    John McCormick

  47. Kasra says:


    One big speech, of course, would not suffice. It would have to be said very, very often and articulated in just the right way using narrative and metaphor and all that good stuff.

    But I disagree that it could be said by “anybody” with some celebrity. Lots of “anybodys” say lots of things. Donald Trump revived birtherism overnight. But the presidency offers a unique advantage simply by nature of being the presidency. Obama commands a celebrity that can’t be matched by The Boss or Warren Buffet or any other past or present politician. He’s in the ultimate leadership position. He’s got the biggest megaphone. When he says something there is an automatic potential for front-page headlines. 24/7/365. Nobody else has that kind of power over mainstream political discourse.

    I’m not saying other notable celebrities getting involved (Schwarzenneger, Bloomberg, Gore, The Boss) don’t bring much-needed attention to the issue. As do grass roots efforts of every sort. As do ad time and billboards and protests. But the fact remains that if Obama wanted, this could be THE political issue RIGHT NOW. He’s made the decision to hold back and so it continues to take a backseat to issues like the deficit and healthcare.

  48. Nick Bentley says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot since it was published a few days ago. And then I wrote an piece with my own take. For what it’s worth: