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.
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.