Because Skocpol’s academic credentials are in areas largely unrelated to climate and energy politics/policy, her views on those subjects must stand or fall on their own. As one leading scholar wrote me after my previous post disputing key Skocpol assertions:
I thought your analysis was dead on — I really appreciated that you pointed out that no single person’s opinion (especially without facts) should carry any more weight than another person’s opinion.
In particular, Skocpol has been widely criticized for holding President Obama blameless while spending so much time criticizing the environmental community. As readers know, I have been as critical of the environmental community as anyone, but they were the ones who put this issue on the table — and kept it there. So even though their strategy and tactics were not optimal, it’s hard to see how they deserve a significant portion of the blame for the failure of the climate bill, in my opinion.
Skocpol has written a new, self-contradictory analysis at Grist, “Learning from the cap-and-trade debate.” I don’t generally think we need even more
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday-morning quarterbacking at this point, but I do think it is important not to learn the wrong lessons from the climate bill’s failure.
Probably Skocpol’s most revealing paragraph, offered with no justification whatsoever, is:
Now that President Obama has been reelected and some new supporters made it into the Senate, established environmental organizations are happily reveling in the president’s new willingness to give speeches about global warming and signal that he will support regulatory steps through the Environmental Protection Agency and other executive bodies. One can almost hear the sigh of relief that, now, most professionally run organizations can go back to doing what they do best: writing reports and recommending regulatory actions. That has been the well-worn groove of action since the 1970s. Throw in occasional chain-yourself-to-fences demonstrations and short visits to jail, and we’ll be on a roll, global-warming reformers think.
Ouch! Or it would be “ouch” if there were any truth to this harsh caricature.
It is beyond insulting to suggest that the major environmental organizations would “sigh with relief” as the chances for a serious climate bill collapse. Anyone who thinks those groups prefer “writing reports” (or even half-measures by the EPA) to federal legislation doesn’t know the first thing about them — doesn’t know how deeply they care about averting catastrophic climate change and how tirelessly many of them worked to keep this issue on the table when it seemed utterly hopeless for years (i.e. during the Cheney/Bush Administration).
Not one single person I know in any established environmental NGO is “happily reveling” in the grim situation we are now in. Quite the reverse, they are all despairing of it and trying to figure out a new strategy.
And I know some of you thought that Skocpol’s critique of the established environmental groups meant she endorsed the growing grassroots actions of groups like 350.org and the anti-Keystone campaign led by Bill McKibben — certainly McKibben himself thought that. But no, Skocpol holds them in the same contempt, as her mocking final line above makes clear.
So why does Skocpol have such disdain for the environmental community? Why does she write things like, “Global-warming reformers must stop being blind and tone-deaf to the real-life circumstances of typical American families in an era of astonishing socioeconomic inequality”? The answer is clear:
Because like it or not, environmentalism has long been primarily a cause of the educated upper-middle class in the United States, and it remains largely populated by experts and activists from that relatively privileged, non-majority class background (including university students headed for that stratum).
Let’s set aside the fact that this applies to her Harvard University far more than it does modern environmentalism.
While her criticism was true decades ago, the environmental community in general and the global warming community in particular have made great strides in expanding to the “majority.” Indeed, the climate bill coalition in particular had
- the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and 2,000 Hispanic business owners from South Florida alone
- Iraq war veterans
- The Hip Hop Caucus and a major effort to Engage African Americans on Climate Change
- Hunters and anglers
- Physicians and public health groups
- The AFL-CIO and many other major labor groups
- Countless faith-based groups, women’s groups, and others concerned about equity issues and low- and moderate-income families.
Skocpol seems entirely unaware of this effort, which was certainly the biggest and most coordinated inter-organizational alliance effort ever put together by the environmental community. Obviously it wasn’t enough, but the climate bill push simply wasn’t the elitist effort Skocpol describes.
Here is where Skocpol’s critique becomes absurdly self-contradictory. She spends her entire blog post explaining why environmental groups are privileged non-majority elitists, poor at lobbying, “blind and tone-deaf” to the realities of average Americans, and generally disorganized — but her report paints them as all powerful:
To hold a “failure of leadership” by Obama responsible for the ultimate shortfall for cap and trade, we would have to imagine that, in the spring of 2010, the President could have done something better or different than the USCAP leaders or Senate bargainers to satisfy Rahm Emmanuel’s realistic demand to “get me some Republicans.” We have to picture Barack Obama being more persuasive with leading Republicans than, say, Environmental Defense Fund honcho Fred Krupp, who had successfully cajoled votes out of GOP Senators in the past. I do not find that plausible. Presidential arm-twisting and sweet-talking were not the issue. Developments in the two parties, especially among Republicans, were pivotal.
No, seriously, it’s right there on page 20 of her report.
So what is it, Prof. Skocpol? Are the environmental groups incompetent, disorganized elitists who don’t represent average Americans and who would rather write reports than do the hard work needed to pass a climate bill — or are they so friggin’ powerful that the head of just one group is more persuasive than the president of the United States, the single most powerful person on the planet?
[For the record, the answer is "neither."]
As you can see, there is no coherent substance to her critique — nor to her “solution”: