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Activist Vs. Inactivist: Roberts Calls Out Revkin’s ‘Handwaving’ On Climate And Keystone

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"Activist Vs. Inactivist: Roberts Calls Out Revkin’s ‘Handwaving’ On Climate And Keystone"

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Sometimes a debunking piece is so good it saves me the trouble. Funny how often those pieces are written by Dave Roberts. I’ll add some thoughts of my own at the end — JR.

The virtues of being unreasonable on Keystone

By Dave Roberts, via Grist

I know Andy Revkin of The New York Times writes posts like this in part to bait people like me. But like Popeye, I yam what I yam. So consider me baited. Self-proclaimed moderates want to lecture anti-Keystone XL activists that they are “distracting” and “counterproductive,” without spelling out what the hell that means, yet they seem bewildered when that makes the activists in question angry.

Let’s review. This weekend, close to 50,000 people gathered for the biggest rally ever against climate change, a threat Revkin acknowledges is enormous, difficult, and urgent. Revkin and his council of wonks took to Twitter to argue that the rally and the campaign behind it are misdirected, absolutist, confused, and bereft of long-term strategy. They had this familiar conversation as the rally was unfolding.

As a result, Revkin suffered the grievous injury of a frustrated tweet from Wen Stephenson, a journalist who has crossed over to activism. This gave the wounded Revkin the opportunity to write yet another lament on the slings and arrows that face the Reasonable Man. He faced down the scourge of single-minded “my way or the highway environmentalism,” y’all, but don’t worry, he’s got a thick skin. He lived to tell the tale.

This is all for the benefit of an elite audience, mind you, for whom getting yelled at by activists is the sine qua non of seriousness. The only thing that boosts VSP cred more is getting yelled at by activists on Both Sides.

So let’s not yell. Instead let’s take a calm look at the Reasonable Revkin take on Keystone activism, representative as it is of a certain VSP consensus. In his post, he says it could be “counterproductive” to focus an activist campaign on the pipeline. I want to dwell on that word for a second, because it’s crucial to his case.

If you want to argue that activists shouldn’t focus on Keystone, you can’t just establish that rallying around and/or blocking Keystone won’t reduce carbon emissions much. So what? Why not try it? Something’s better than nothing, after all. Even if it’s a total waste of time, that may be unproductive, but it’s not counterproductive.

No, you have to establish that the Keystone campaign is impeding or preventing something else better and more effective from happening. That’s what it means to say the Keystone campaign is counterproductive — that it’s detracting from other, superior climate efforts.

What are these other efforts, and how is a focus on Keystone impeding or preventing them? That’s the causal relationship folks like Revkin need to establish to make their case, but they are maddeningly vague about it.

Back before the election, Revkin acknowledged that “the pipeline, in isolation, is not in the national interest,” but “overall,” Obama “should not stand in the way of the pipeline.” Huh? It’s not in the national interest but he should greenlight it? Why? Because “it’s very much in the national interest for Obama to avoid saddling himself with an unnecessary issue that would be easy for his foes to distort into an Obama anti-jobs position.” So Obama should sacrifice the national interest in the name of political positioning. Got it. Time’s Bryan Walsh and Mike Grunwald echoed Revkin’s sentiment, warning that Keystone activists risked empowering Obama’s opposition and getting a Republican elected, which would be way worse for the climate than the pipeline.

A couple things have happened since then. One, Obama got reelected, pretty easily. Two, it’s become clear that literally anything Obama does will be distorted as anti-jobs by congressional Republicans, which is one reason they are so widely hated.

Obama’s reelection is no longer at risk. He’s got nothing to lose and no reason to trim his sails to please an unpleasable opposition. Has that changed Revkin’s calculus? (Or Walsh’s? Or Grunwald’s?) If so, I haven’t heard it.

Instead, we continue to hear vague references to things Obama could be doing if he weren’t stuck with these meddling Keystone kids. Revkin says Keystone is a “distraction.” (Distracting whom? What would they be doing if they weren’t distracted? He doesn’t say.) Professional wanker Matt Nisbet says it “distracts” and “limits” Obama’s ability to broker a deal. (A deal on what? With whom? He doesn’t say.) Michael Levi says it makes 60 Senate votes for a price on carbon less likely. (Less likely than impossible?) I could cite a dozen more examples, people casually accusing Keystone activism of impeding or draining energy from other solutions.

What is this good-faith bipartisan progress just waiting to happen if only activists weren’t being unreasonable about Keystone? What do the VSPs have to offer? I don’t see it. I see self-pleasuring dreams of bipartisan Grand Bargains with no awareness of changed political circumstances. I see visions of elite-driven incrementalism with no sense of the ticking clock. I see, above all, the elitist instinct that activists should pipe down, quit being so darn angry and unreasonable, and let the Serious People sit down and work it out together in a spirit of comity and mutual respect. There’s no reason to drag politics into politics, after all.

Revkin himself was asked directly about his alternative strategy. He waved his hands at a seven-part video and a homily.

Keep in mind, these nebulous alternatives — brokered deals, deep thoughts on global energy poverty, China something something — are supposed to outweigh the benefits of drawing 50,000 (mostly young) people together to express their passion on climate change, and possibly to impede or block the continued development of an enormously carbon-intensive energy source.

Intensity wins in politics, as I’ve said many times before, even if — Levi’s unreasonable demand notwithstanding — its effects cannot be easily predicted. There are benefits to an activated, impassioned constituency and the social and political machinery that brings them together in large numbers. It’s what the right has: an intense core, fighting on behalf of the status quo (using the status quo’s money), that has captured one of America’s two political parties. It’s what the fight against climate change does not yet have: an intense core, fighting on behalf of social and political change, with at least one political party that is scared to cross it.

Intensity is built through conflict, through the drawing of political and moral lines. That’s what activists like Bill McKibben are trying to do, with activist logic, not wonk logic, taking advantage of symbolism and opportunity. If there’s some other groundswell for change from which those efforts are “distracting,” I haven’t heard about it.

Revkin seems preoccupied with the fact that Keystone is part of larger systems and not particularly significant in light of that context. And it’s true: Everything is insignificant in light of some larger context. Climate change is a “wicked problem,” which means that everything passing as a solution will be flawed, partial, and impermanent. What to do? We are rapidly losing ground, on the verge of locking in a trajectory scientists tell us will lead to disastrous and irreversible consequences. We can sit around and fill our blogs with reasons why this or that solution is the wrong one, inferior to some better one that we’d already have, goldarnit, if those meddling pushers-of-other-solutions weren’t “distracting” from ours. We can fall in love with the ineffable intellectual tangle, as Revkin has, and accept that anything specific enough to build an activist campaign around will be meaningless in the context of global energy demand and emissions. We can read the Serenity Prayer and get used to the fact that it’s all out of our hands anyway.

But some people want to fight! Some people actually haul themselves out from behind their keyboards, call a bunch of friends, put on warm clothes, and go stomp around in public yelling about it. These are the folks throwing sand in the social gears, the ones trying to wrest the levers of power out of hostile hands. As a professional word-typer, like Revkin, I have come to believe that those people deserve a certain level of respect and forbearance. Maybe shouting advice down to them from the bloggy heights isn’t as helpful as we word-typers are inclined to think. At least we could refrain from pissing on them while they’re rallying.

No one wants to shut down discussion, insist on One True Way to sustainability, or banish Revkin to “the highway.” Those are strawmen. I admire Revkin immensely as a reporter, like him as a person, and would love nothing more than to see him and Phil Aroneanu play banjo together. We can disagree without ill will.

The argument of Keystone protestors is not that there’s One True Way, but that eventually there has to be some way. Somebody’s got to start taking these dire warnings seriously and do something, something specific and concrete. You can’t support Doing Something but oppose Doing This Particular Thing forever. Sooner or later, people have to draw lines and take sides. Progress does not happen without struggle.

Maybe Keystone isn’t the right line. Maybe the next line won’t be the right one either. But the longer folks like Revkin hover over such fights at an ironic distance, never quite satisfied with this target, or that spokesperson, or this policy, or that strategy, the more they’re going to get blowback from people gripped by a sense that there’s not a lot of time left to fuck around and at the very least we have to stop making it worse. The ranks of such people are growing. At some point, dithering over incrementalism in the imaginary center will come to be seen as a failure of moral clarity and judgment. I wouldn’t want to be the last person dug into that trench.

The situation calls for large-scale, rapid, systemic change. That kind of change doesn’t happen when wonks and bloggers agree on the perfect solution and achieve multiple PDFs. It happens when people put their asses on the line and fight. It happens when power shifts.

Editor’s note: Bill McKibben serves on Grist’s board of directors.

– Dave Roberts

What follows is a Climate Progress Editor’s note: Roberts’ piece redoubles my belief that attacking those who propose various forms of climate action and activism is little more than hand-waving IF the critic has not spelled out what their emissions or temperature target is and how to get there (see “Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, R&D, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy” – not in that order):

Revkin continues to this day to only endorse his vague R&D-focused “energy quest” and criticize those of us (including the National Academy of Sciences) who push for strong emissions reductions starting now.  Since Revkin refuses to tell us what level of concentrations he thinks the world should aim for – even a broad range, say 450 ppm to 550 ppm — he retains the luxury of attacking those who are willing to state what their target is while maintaining a faux high ground that they are being politically unrealistic while he can pretend his essentially do-nothing do-little* strategy is scientifically or morally viable, which it ain’t….

* The asterisk of mine above is because science journalist John Rennie has written: “I’ll differ from Joe in that I don’t consider Andy’s favored approach to be a do-nothing strategy: a quest for cleaner, more affordable energy would be scientifically and morally desirable for plenty of reasons, and it would almost certainly help to reduce future warming eventually. The problem is, there’s a very good chance it would do too little, too late.”  Point taken.  It is a “do-little” strategy.

As Roberts notes, Revkins recommends this hand-waving (jaw-dropping?) strategy for green groups:

1. Watch ’03 Smalley talk: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnf4Z6Yq17hTjScHB52Or5rCqrOi20EFh … 2. Assess with Serenity Prayer in mind. pic.twitter.com/pE4jEttW

A 7-part video on the values of R&D from ten years ago? Seriously. I have also strongly endorsed the value of expanding R&D in numerous pieces — 20 years ago. Smalley died in 2005, so he isn’t around anymore to say whether even he thinks what made sense in 2003 still makes sense in 2013 as a primary strategy given how the science and emissions have advanced. Oh and do assess with the Serenity Prayer in mind:

God, grant me the … serenity to accept the things I cannot change … Courage to change the things I can …  And wisdom to know the difference.

Problem solved. See, if only we were wise enough to realize that the problem can only be solved by watching a 10-year-old video, then we’d stop wasting our time trying to do things like cut emissions now or keep large pools of carbon in the ground.

Note to Revkin: The full Serenity Prayer is perhaps even less relevant for the task at hand. And given how many gazillion folks have tweeted out the short version of the Serenity prayer — 280 in the last 24 hours (I counted), which is 100,000 a year! — it’s a wonder we have any climate problem at all…. Oh I forgot, they didn’t watch that darn 2003 video….

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77 Responses to Activist Vs. Inactivist: Roberts Calls Out Revkin’s ‘Handwaving’ On Climate And Keystone

  1. Camburn says:

    The Keystone XL pipeline will be built.

  2. robert says:

    Andy Revkin still has a job as an environmental blogger? Who knew?

    I thought he passed into irrelevancy years ago.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      There are only two possibilities, Robert:

      1. New York Times editorial staff is enamored of Revkin, and are too stuffy to consider replacing him with a more activist voice.
      2. The Times already knows that Roberts is about a million times better writer and reporter than Revkin. Roberts even fits their preferred consumer demographic better. So why wouldn’t they hire him?

      Because they are petrified that one of their key advertisers, such as Exxon or GM, might pull their ads. Well, scared writing is just as doomed as scared money in a poker game. If this kind of stupidity so damages the Times’ reputation that they go down, good riddance to them.

      • Mike,

        You are absolutely right. I do think that for-profit news organizations are ultimately incompatible with good reporting. They may start out with good intentions, but their need to please the big advertisers makes them timid about dealing with big problems.

        Jon

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      He seems like a Lomborg clone. I see that the ‘Something rotten from the state of Denmark’ has now lent his mucilaginous talents to the ‘Golden Rice’ scam in aid of the GE crops fiasco.

  3. Joe and Dave, thank you for this.

  4. Joe,

    I had a feeling you’d run Roberts’s piece, and when I finished reading it and came over here there it was, front and center.

    It’s sad about the NY (always behind the) Times. They SO wish that there could be change without anything actually changing. And they are SO threatened by anyone who wants to take a stand on…well, damn near anything.

    I don’t know if you were around for the Vietnam War, but the Times did the same thing then. Hippies by the millions marched and yelled and hollered and burned their draft cards and then, when it was pretty obvious that we were going to lose the war anyway, the Times pontificated on why withdrawal would be the best course of action. Of course by that time the better part of 50,000 Americans and God knows how many Vietnamese were dead — and millions more maimed.

    The Times plays it safe and does a lot of whining in its reporting with conditional verbs — could, might. Seldom do you read — must, will. Revkin, unfortunately, has become just another cog in the Times’ concern troll machine.

  5. I’d make it, “do-very-little”.

    “Concern troll machine.”

    Exactly. Elites with their privileged heads buried deep in the (tar) sands.

    • Superman1 says:

      While I admire the tenacity of the marchers on Sunday, let’s put it in perspective. In the sixties, there were demonstrations against the VW that had twenty times the number of participants, and they had zero impact on ending the war. At Spring Break last year, there were approximately three million students, two orders of magnitude greater than the number that attended last Sunday’s rally. That’s where the real priorities are, and these numbers are the only poll I believe. There are 65 million Americans in the 15-30 age range, who will be most impacted by climate, and if 1/2000 show up at a rally, that again is a poll that tells me their priorities.

      • Dennis says:

        And why were they burning draft cards back in the 60′s? Because they might be drafted and be sent over there. The focus of the rally was to stop Keystone, and many of the speakers were people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the Alberta tar sands. Perhaps the next rally will include people displaced by superstorm sandy or the next big hurricane. Or farmers whose crops have withered in the drought. These are the kinds of stories that can resonate with more people when there’s a chance to tell them. And I respectfully disagree with the VW protests having zero impact. Nixon won in 68 in part because he promised peace, and by his re-election in 72 the most US troops had come home. That wouldn’t have happened without a public outcry against the war.

        • Superman1 says:

          Dennis, You make some excellent points. Let me phrase my message from a different perspective. To make real progress (if it is still possible) against the impending climate change, at least two main conditions must be met. There needs to be a strategic plan/roadmap that will show clearly how to get to there from here, and there need to be the ‘troops’ to insure the plan gets implemented. I have commented repeatedly that I have yet to see a credible plan that will accomplish the former. Equally important, I haven’t seen anywhere near the level of ‘troops’ necessary to insure that the plan gets adopted and then implemented. If the young people in the age demographic who stand to suffer the most from climate change are not willing to give it equal priority to Spring Break attendance (three million) or Super Bowl viewing (many tens of millions), real efforts will never even get off the ground. I live in a large community of retirement-age people, half of whom are retired. I find zero interest in discussing the topic, much less doing anything about it. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the older generation to be the savior of the younger one on this topic. The 15-30s need to be willing to do whatever is necessary if they are to have any kind of chance, and they need to do it in large numbers.

          • Paul Baer says:

            If there’s one thing we most assuredly cannot wait for, it’s a “credible plan” that shows how we will get from here to there. What we need rather is the political will to do the obvious, which is to step on the brakes hard and quickly and be prepared to deal with the bruises we get from the shock.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      They are simply trying to concoct alibis, in case the ‘Reckoning’ comes before they are dead .’Plausible deniability’, one of the mainstays of life for the manipulators within the Universe of Lies.

    • Remember Superman, Dennis, et. al.: The 60s protestest didn’t start out with millions of people in the streets. They started out with a handful of people here, there and the other place protesting the war, and those protests quickly coalescing into a mass movement. (There was more to it, but this isn’t the place to relate the whole history.)

      How many people were standing in front of the White House protesting about climate issues in February of 2011? By the summer of 2012 a few thousand people people were protesting and getting themselves arrested there. Last weekend, 35,000 to 50,000 people showed up to make a ruckus. 10,000 more rallied in SF and there were smaller rallies all over the country.

      The media carried reports; Obama got busted for pal-ing around with terrorists (i.e. fossil fuel execs); the leading climate reporter for the New York Times was taken to task in the blogosphere; the head of the NRDC appeared on the PBS News Hour; the Sierra Club endorsed civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history and the get-off-your-butt buzz can be heard everywhere.

      Not a bad start on building a mass movement. Now we just have to keep it going.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Yes, you are right Philip and it was global as the climate movement is now. Whitlam pulled the Aussie troops out because the demos had grown so huge. No govt in a rep dem can afford the damage done by continuous, massive demonstrations of popular opposition – just keep it up over there, ME

  6. BobbyL says:

    Speaking about targets, whatever happened to the 350 ppm target? It seems like only a short time ago the national Sierra Club was getting roundly criticized by many members for not officially adopting 350 as a target and now everyone seems fine with 2C (450?).

    • Sasparilla says:

      While people that know what’s happening, know we have to head back to 350ppm – the world in general and the Press (which has to deliver the right message) and Political powers are barely able to acknowledge 450ppm and 2.0C (especially since we’re probably darn close to locking in more warming and higher levels than that already).

      Getting the powers that be to acknowledge 350ppm as a target would also require them to acknowledge that we’re in deep dodo already and better start fixing this yesterday! And Oh – we shouldn’t pass the XL.

      • John McCormick says:

        Sas, the curtain is coming down.

        At the rate of CO2 emissions alone, we’ll see 450 in 18 to 20 years. Add feed backs and we might get there in 15 years. Consider CO2 equivalents and we’re almost there.

        Numbers aside, the Arctic sea ice is gone and will inflict more damaged now and into the very long future.

        The pipeline won’t accelerate the timeline. BAU is.

        • Superman1 says:

          John, You’re right on target, but it’s a message the Amen Corner doesn’t want to hear. With the influx of warm Atlantic water to the Arctic, as Alexeev has shown, the ice will be gone shortly. Then the solar, atmospheric, and Atlantic water heat will go directly into raising the temperature of the Arctic waters. A December paper announced finding methane clathrates at 290 meters in the Arctic Ocean. The lead researcher believed they were very vulnerable to warmer water. Even if there’s a modest amount of clathrates at shallow depth, their release could trigger the other positive feedback mechanisms. With or without Keystone approval.

        • Sasparilla says:

          Very true John, but, as the article points out so eloquently – we need to stop making things worse and approving the XL will make things worse.

          As a data point, the Canadian tar sands and the Venuezuelan Orinoco tar fields (both of which are being developed) represent half of the CO2 emissions we have left to 450ppm (without feedbacks, without other oil, without coal, without natural gas).

        • BobbyL says:

          When you take into account the cooling effect of aerosols I believe we are not yet that close to 450 CO2 equiv. Probably somewhere around 400 I think.

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          18-20 years? You joke my friend! Emissions are going to drop rapidly in the next few years as the economic rationalists continue to flood the world with funny money (and torrential rain) while the rest of us put our meagre savings into growing tomatoes, spuds and weeds in alternating droughts and floods. Have a look at the real economy, the state of the planet, ME

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        ‘Deep dodo’- just like the dodos, fat, gormless, pigeons, which just sat around waiting to be terminated.

  7. Bill Wilson says:

    There are endless reasons to drift endlessly down the road until the cliff can be seen. Being seen the drivers are paying big bucks to keep the deadly haul rolling forward. Our kids will never enjoy the world we knew unless we take the urgent action our scientists say is necessary. To put the breaks on I have offered some solutions that did not much spart action but who knows. One key method other working in tandem with divestment is to have a national slowdown that can clearly document the immediate affects of saving lives and cutting carbon use. The feeling alone of being in charge will free many to take the necessary steps but I agree that some feel no shame and need to be confronted until they say it is not worth the trouble. British Columbia did this with First Nations and we can. jmo

  8. Adam R. says:

    Our house is burning and Revkin again urges us not to do anything rash like yelling “Fire!”

  9. todd tanner says:

    Another excellent piece from Dave Roberts. There’s really only one line that hits wide of the mark. “At some point, dithering over incrementalism in the imaginary center will come to be seen as a failure of moral clarity and judgment.”

    That ship has sailed. People like Revkin have already lost whatever semblance of moral authority they once possessed. Now they’re just part of the problem.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Very true Todd.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I reckon Revkin eye-balled Lomborg’s success as a phony ‘concern denialist’ and figured he’d like a bit of that action. I find it hard to conceive of the mental gymnastics required to initiate this sort of behaviour without the element of deliberate intent.

  10. Andy Lee Robinson says:

    If the pipeline does get built, then it should come with conditions, such as financing the immediate mothballing of coal powerstations and/or a tenfold acceleration in funding for the transition to solar and wind. Oil is far too valuable to just burn.

    The pipeline may be needed to pipe water when the climate starts getting really nasty.

    I hope it doesn’t get built, but whatever happens, I’m hopeful that 2013 is the year that Something Gets Done, because we’re all out-of-time.

    • I agree that KXL could be deal bait. But aim high. Someone suggested a carbon tax in comments on another post, which I said was not likely to happen. But on reconsideration, it’s worth a try. But the deal has to be permanent, because KXL will be permanent. On further reconsideration, taxes can be undone. It would take some extraordinary legislation to make it stick, unamendable, as long as KXL operated.

      Also, when Obama says no, he can’t just say no. He needs to have an affirmative alternative. No KXL, but yes, a new program to deploy solar on federal facilities as fast as possible, or something along those lines. Just saying no makes him look like an environmental reactionary. Offering an alternative gives direction to the country and may get something off the ground. “No” is not a policy.

      • The White House has already said that it’s not going to introduce or push for a carbon tax.

        • David Smith says:

          I thought what the President said was that such an effort (for a carbon tax)would not originate in the White House, not that they wouldn’t support one if it came to them. I am hoping this is strategy.

          • Maybe you’re right. Maybe I heard it wrong. But if it doesn’t originate from the White House, where would it originate. From the House? Ha! Maybe this is just another way for Obama to wiggle out of true leadership on carbon issues while simultaneously talking the talk.

      • John McCormick says:

        There is not enough time for the White House to come out of its shell and proposed a huge shift away from carbon as a part of the deal if he rejects the pipeline.

        I agree that ‘no’ is not a policy and just like all the debt crisis and fiscal can-kicking there will be confrontation and shouting whatever the decision.

        We need moral courage and that died after the Obama folk caved to the banks in 2009. He could have thrown himself into solving the housing and mortgage crisis but he let Wall Street dictate. That is how he will operate on climate change. I feel it.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          A big problem will be that we are about to suffer another leg down in the implosion of neo-liberal capitalism. The mere hint that the privately owned Federal Reserve might stop the 85 billion monthly fix that it provides for the bankster debt junkies had the share-market wobbling. Currency wars are beginning, emerging markets are being flooded with Western monies concocted by ‘Quantitative Easing’, asset bubbles are burgeoning everywhere, consumption is falling as populations are strangled by austerity, Silvio will be back in Italy, the Spanish elite have been caught, en masse, with their hands in numerous cookie jars, and preparations for trade war with China are mounting. When the next phase of the debacle hits, it will be the perfect opportunity for the Right ( who ‘learn nothing and forget nothing’) to argue against renewable energy, carbon taxes and Government action. The crisis is synergistic, and economic and ecological collapse feed off and exacerbate one another.

    • Artful Dodger says:

      I think the line-in-the-sand must be drawn at barring oil exports from tarsands oil. The Gulf coast refineries exist in a free-trade zone, which allows companies to sell oil products made there without paying US taxes. How can this possibly be in the US national interest?
      This gives the President the perfect reason to deny the pipeline outright place. Or begin a conditional permit that restricts it to domestic use only, and specifically bars exports of tar sands oil (and why not coal while we’re at it?). This is how Shell is losing their drilling gamble in the Arctic ocean North of Alaska. Failure to comply.
      So many conditional restrictions could be placed that the pipeline ceases to be an attractive investment. Alas, this alternate future is probably a pipe dream, given the President’s SOTU comments about cutting red tape in approvals. But perhaps dirty foreign oil could be singled out without a domestic backlash.

  11. A Siegel says:

    Joe —

    Truly appreciated David’s takedown — it was very well done — and appreciate your note at the end.

    One minor ‘quibble’ — why should Smalley be collateral damage? I have to say that I still find his Terrawatt Challenge (http://getenergysmartnow.com/2009/09/06/a-must-read-item-the-terrawatt-challenge/) remains an incredibly useful, interesting thing to read and contemplate — no matter what one thinks about Revkin posting a 10-year old video.

    • John McCormick says:

      A Seigel, had we implemented Smalley’s 2005 opinion on transitioning away from oil and coal, we might still be squabbling about where to site the wind and solar.

      And, we might have had breakthroughs on storage but I see no evidence we accomplished much in 7 years. And, there is China!

    • Joe Romm says:

      I have nothing against Smalley at all. He was a great man. Smart enough that in ten years, his views might have evolved, but we can’t know.

  12. Brooks Bridges says:

    Fantastic post by Dave – so many things I’ve thought but he expressed them all so well.

    And definitely liked the add-on Joe. Except I’d call it a do-it-ever-so-elegantly-but-far-too-late strategy.

  13. john atcheson says:

    This was a great piece — both Dave’s part and Joe’s addition.

    To me it’s much simpler. Whatever else we may — or may not – do, there’s too much embedded carbon in the tar sands to exploit them. Period.

    That’s not a distraction; it’s not counterproductive. It’s a carbon bomb that can’t be exploded.

    • Superman1 says:

      John, “It’s a carbon bomb that can’t be exploded.” That’s an interesting metaphor, and it brings to mind the USA nuclear arsenal. We have enough weapons to destroy the world many times over, and if we eliminate 10% by treaty, it’s essentially irrelevant. We have enough global carbon sources to destroy the climate many times over, and if we block Keystone, we will still have more than enough to destroy the climate many times over. For real security in both cases, almost complete disarmament is required. Anything less is wishful thinking.

  14. Sasparilla says:

    Joe, thanks for putting this up & the addition – I love Dave Roberts, such an excellent article.

    Gotta repeat this one part: “from people gripped by a sense that there’s not a lot of time left to fruck around and at the very least we have to stop making it worse.”

    Yes!

  15. Artful Dodger says:

    (using the status quo’s money), that has captured one of America’s two political parties.

    Yes, it’s true: The RepubliDems are captured by the status quo.

    Who took more Wall St $$$ this election cycle, Romney or Obama? Which big banks own the oil companies? That’s right, the same ones that own ALL the politicians.

    The 2nd Party is the Greens, who were completely locked out of the Presidential Debates. Where were the questions on Climate?

    Two Parties, hah! smh.

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Anybody know if there is a single mainstream Newspaper in the U.S. that has recommended canceling the XL on climate change grounds in the U.S.?

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Interesting question.

    • David Smith says:

      Good question – I had a petition in my inbox a few days ago apposing the xl-pipeline. There was a list of 10 reasons why the pipe should not be approved. Climate change was not mentioned. What’s with that? I did not sign because of this omition.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      It’s like the Iraq aggression in 2003. Before the attack, with tens of millions protesting the preposterous lies and deceptions of the aggressors, all but one of Murdoch’s over 150 titles, independently and freely came out in support of the aggression, which, by some quirk of serendipity, was ‘Big Brother’ Rupe’s position. That’s really existing ‘Freedom’ and ‘Western moral values’ for you.

  17. RobLL says:

    The Gray lady’s version

    God, grant us the …

    Senility to reject the things we cannot fathom

    to Change the facts we don’t like

    And a Public who never remembers what we said yesterday.

  18. John McCormick says:

    I was an early fan of Revkin when he was getting hammered by CP back in 2008 and 2009.

    I met him at the NAS forum on Climate Choices in March 2009. We talked about how the criticism affected him. It did and it did not. As a friendly gesture, I say know yourself and be true to yourself.

    That was then. Now I see the difference between Revkin and Neville Chamberlain is their alma mater.

  19. Excellent piece, Dave Roberts and excellent commentary Climate Progress. And the efficacy of Revkin’s measured stance in raising awareness of climate and other issues can be seen by the fact that with him as the NYT’s lead environmental reporter– they close their climate desk, and hand the topic over to the business page rendering the entire dialogue a pro- and anti- business discussion with Michael Levi as lead guru.(Cue more hand wringing.) Had Revkin been more compelling rather than solidify his position as a frozen in a time warp moderate, the Times might not have retreated from their environmental coverage.

    • But my biggest beef with Andy as a fellow journalist and New Yorker is that his vision of the global scope is so lofty that he is completely disconnected from his locality. To be committed to the environment, you have to plant your feet on the earth. And you also have to care about people. Andy’s allegiance to the small band of men he hopes will find international solutions– leads him to entirely ignore his own community which just sustained a blow from Hurricane Sandy. New York is home to fracktivism, which McKibben has called the most successful grass roots local environmental activism in the Northeast. Along with all of its other problems, methane released by fracking is a serious contributor to climate change. Yet when for a brief year, the NYT allowed Ian Urbino to do bona fide investigation, there was Revkin shooting at his heels.In the aftermath of the Fukushima incident, with the same breed of reactor operating in Indian Point not far from Revkin’s own home, the contention of his coverage– was that the problem was not decaying under-regulated nuclear reactors but the people who feared them. Revkin is more afraid of people and their emotions– than he is of the risk of a nuclear incident or of climate change. Environmentalists have been labeled as “NMBYs” by those in denial about climate change and other environmental concerns. But environmental awareness begins in one’s own community and the corners of the world that each of us loves. That’s nothing to be ashamed about because when directed by science that is the core of motivation to action. In this fight, with the science on our side, the only thing we have to fear is numbness– moral, ethical, political, and psychological. It’s numbness that makes it easier to tolerate a status quo that is stealing the future from our children.

  20. Thomas Rodd says:

    I noticed Revkin quite a while ago citing the Serenity Prayer as one of his touchstones.

    My reaction to this was that it seems both hubristic and unintelligent to assume that in many areas, and especially in unprecedented and multi-factored situations like those encountered in history and politics and public policy (and climate policy), one can “know” to any degree of certainty what can and can’t be changed. That kind of “knowledge” is ordinarily acquired in hindsight, if at all, by trying and seeing what works and doesn’t.

    Consider the Abolitionists, recently profiled on PBS, who labored with less and less success for thirty years before the Civil War – and then, in five years, slavery was dead.

    I wish Revkin would lay off the Serenity Prayer aspect of his public messaging; to me it’s a bit of a cop-out, and it has an old-person, resigned tone (I’m definitely old and I know that feeling) that is unhelpful, especially when we need to get young people engaged in these efforts.

    “God grant me the energy to have another ounce of strength to do something practical to make a difference, and not to pre-judge the situation, even when things look bleak. Serenity is for losers.”

  21. SecularAnimist says:

    David Roberts wrote: “Self-proclaimed moderates want to lecture anti-Keystone XL activists that they are ‘distracting’ and ‘counterproductive’, without spelling out what the hell that means …”

    That’s because it doesn’t mean anything.

    People like Andy Revkin just regurgitate the talking points that the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda machine spoon-feeds them.

    None of it has any “meaning”. It’s just noise that signifies nothing but generates negativity, discouragement, denial and despair.

  22. Andy says:

    A bunch of undocumented kids raised a ruckus, what 6 years ago now? They were told to be prepared for a backlash that would set their efforts for a legalization of undocumented citizens (yes, they are whether we like it our not) back for a generation. See where it got them? Obama’s executive order and now serious discussions on immigration with both sides agreeing to some form of amnesty.

    And BTW, the pipeline shouldn’t be built for many reasons, but prevention of strip mining in America’s boreal forest is enough reason for me.

  23. Daniel Coffey says:

    I feel a bit repetitious, but if the preservationist and conservationists and environmentalists and protectors of the wild don’t start supporting large-scale solar PV and wind projects everywhere we can, then we won’t get what needs to be done in the time allotted. This is not a video game. There will be no do overs, we will not get a second chance to beat global warming. We are way past 350 ppm CO2 and the energy accumulation rates are far, far too high. That means that a big part of the wild world will disappear, and we’re next. It’s time to trot on down and SUPPORT rapid deployment of the technology we have – wind, solar and geothermal – at a scale that will make a difference. A little solar-on-rooftop and conservation is going to get it done.

    • Daniel Coffey says:

      Oh, I left out the most important word: NOT.

    • BobbyL says:

      While that is a good point, I think it too much to expect that people will suddenly stop protecting special places even if though it means fighting against transmission lines, large scale solar installations, and wind turbines. In China it seems they can just put anything where they want even if it means displacing millions of people to build a dam, but here in our democracy we still have to go though the environmental reviews with public input. It makes fighting climate change that much harder but it is who we are.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Do you propose, support and demand renewable energy on the tiny fragments of surviving ecosystems, relatively unsullied by ‘development’ in preference to the vastly greater tracts of damaged, derelict or utterly devastated land, not to forget military reserves and range lands where cattle and renewables can co-exist? If so, why the preference for these vital, rare and precious ecosystems? Why the seeming indifference to the resultant biodiversity loss? Why the constant hectoring of environmentalists over this issue, when they are the least of renewable energy’s foes?

  24. Thomas Rodd says:

    “God grant me the energy to have another ounce of strength to do something practical to make a difference, and not to pre-judge the situation, even when things look bleak. Serenity is for losers.”

  25. Paul Magnus says:

    Revkin just not scared yet. Wait for Sandy II.

  26. squidboy6 says:

    Revkin’s blog, “Dot.Earth” should be renamed Dot.Revkin. It’s really about Revkin and not much else. He’s a lot like Brooks of the NYT as well. He gets a lot of things wrong but since the only thing that matters is his position he can’t see beyond his own little red wagon.

    Revkin isn’t influential anymore. One of his recent blogs attacked another self-promoter for her brand of environmentalism. It was comical that he was jealous and condescending one moment, then slapping himself on the back the next.

    Now that he’s been called out he should be ignored. He will go away when his page views go down.