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Climate Crisis Future: Dangers for Democrats

by Captain Future Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 06:20:42 PM EST

In a previous Kos post, I speculated on the emerging Republican plan for the Climate Crisis. Basically it is to mix denial with assertions of doing something, in order to essentially do nothing (or not enough) to stop greenhouse gas pollution, while waiting to use the opportunity of a climate-related disaster in the U.S. to shift attention to their version of crisis management, which is disaster capitalism.

The Democrats are much different, and Europeans likely see them as the only hope of the U.S. joining the world in coming to grips with the Climate Crisis. Yet there are also two sets of problems I foresee for them--one of which has pretty much the same result for the future as the Republican plan, and the other involves a lack of preparation for near-term crisis, and how the Republicans are likely to try to take advantage of that.

Crucial to this analysis is my insistence that the Climate Crisis has two very different parts: the threat of truly catastrophic changes in the future if we don't stop greenhouse pollution now (the "Stop It" component) and the need to address serious problems and disasters that are going to happen in the relatively near future because of climate change--problems it is too late to stop (the "Fix It" component.) The analysis follows.

Diary rescue by Migeru

"Stop It" Requires Focus and Strength

On the need to address the Climate Crisis, on its predominant importance, and on the need to reduce greenhouse gases, the major Democrats--the congressional leadership and especially the presidential candidates--are all saying the right things. They clearly recognize the needs in the Stop It arena. The question here is: will they follow through with action that is sufficiently strong?

This question is dramatized by the UN climate crisis conference in Bali that began Monday. A quote from an AP story on its beginning hour: "The eyes of the world are upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the conference. "The world now expects a quantum leap forward."

The question is: do the Democrats have the will and the ability to lead that quantum leap? Several of the candidates have fairly bold proposals, though not as extensive or creative as those proposed by Al Gore in his congressional testimony last March--and this was before the latest scientific information and observations that generally show things are getting worse faster than previously believed. Endorsing the complete Gore list would be a better start.

For the task ahead is monumental. We need to essentially end greenhouse gas pollution by mid century, and we've heard political leaders around the world state this--yet despite those words, emissions of the two most important greenhouse gases hit an all time high in 2006.

In the U. S. an obvious requirement would seem to be the election of a Democrat as President, and a Congress with a working Democratic majority. But that alone is unlikely to be enough. The nation must be focused on this effort--and related energy, economic, health and environmental matters--so to make that possible, it seems necessary that these candidates make the Climate Crisis a priority issue in their campaigns.

So far that hasn't happened, though it is much more of an issue this time than in 2004 or 2000, both with the candidates and the public. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Washington Post: "It's a huge issue. I've been stunned by this," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who found in a May poll that energy independence and global warming were cited as America's most important domestic challenge by 29 percent of respondents, second only to health care. "I think this is a top-tier voting issue that has crossover appeal," Greenberg said."

The candidates are raising the issue more, as Barack Obama did in the NPR radio debate yesterday. But it can't be a stealth issue, important to the public but not discussed as a major issue in public. That's where the problem is. The predispositions of the TV networks and other sponsors of the debate have made discussing the issue almost impossible. There is rarely even a related question. Planting a question in a campaign event audience on the climate crisis is the least of the sins of Hillary Clinton's staff--it may well have been a public service. When a debate was devoted to the topic in Los Angeles, only three of the candidates even showed up: Hillary, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Although I can't find any reference to it online at the moment, I read that there will be another such debate in New Hampshire--where it is a major campaign issue--involving candidates from both parties, with the Republican team captained by Ahnold, and the Democrats by Al Gore.

Years ago Bill McKibben used a phrase I still think is essential--he said that there had to be "emotional consensus" to effectively address the Climate Crisis. That's an emotional consensus in the American citizenry large enough to form a wave that sweeps change ahead of it. The next President will have to be the FDR of Climate Change, only this President won't have the stark reality of the Depression or World War II in front of the public every day--there will be signs and manifestations, but most of it will be in the future--including nearly everything that ending greenhouse gases pollution can accomplish.

If candidates are elected because of their commitment to stop greenhouse pollution, then there is a chance for change. But it will also require courage and concentration to actually do what is necessary. It will mean resisting politics as usual, and the usual compromises over substance. There will come a time, quite soon, when no respectable politician in either or any party will deny the reality of the Climate Crisis, any more than now deny that smoking causes cancer. But will legislation and presidential initiatives be strong enough? That's going to be the question.

Reading the writing on the wall, businesses--especially in the energy sector--are already advocating that the Climate Crisis be addressed, and they want to be players in devising how. Some of them may only want to make sure these efforts are sustainable. But some of them are probably angling to make these efforts as weak as possible.

We've already seen stronger legislation in Congress dropped by its sponsors in favor of weaker bills that can get more support, especially from Republicans. But this time the price of too little, too late may be the end of civilization, the end of life as we know it on the planet, or simply unstoppable centuries of suffering.

"Fix It": Anticipate or Lose

As hard as the conceptual leap will be to act now to create results in the far future, there's an equal or even greater conceptual challenge.

Disasters and longer lasting catastrophes are going to happen, and sooner or later they will be understood as manifestations of the Climate Crisis. They're happening now, though either not in the large population areas of the U.S., or they are "natural" phenomena (droughts, heatwaves, storms) people have seen in the past, unrelated to global heating. But that connection will be made, perhaps in a big way, fairly soon. And in our either/or culture (particularly political culture), we may find it too difficult, too complicated, too "nuanced" to see the need to Fix the problems in the present and near future, while still Stopping the more catastrophic effects in the far future.

I believe some Republicans are ready to jump on such disasters as a way of owning the issue, and of deflecting change from efforts to end greenhouse pollution towards efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate crisis effects as they happen in the present or very near future. Conversely, I don't see evidence that Democrats are thinking about these problems, or talking about them. And if they aren't ready to respond when something happens, they may be leaving themselves open to devastating political attack.

Republicans--and even some Democrats--may well take advantage of anxiety and even panic by saying we can't afford to worry about the far future--we need to use all our resources to save ourselves in the present, and if we need to burn fossil fuels at a high rate to do it, we must.

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein quotes notorious neocon economist Milton Friedman as saying that when disaster strikes, politicians grasp whatever ideas are laying around, so it is important to have those ideas out there.  That's another reason it's important to be prepared for Climate Crisis disasters.

Democrats must be ready for that, and for this argument. They must be ready to assert responsibility for the present and the future, at the same time. They must be ready to address disasters and crises, not with the "disaster capitalism" and fearmongering for political advantage that the Bushites used in response to 9-11, with the bogus war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, all to profit their corporate cronies. Or how they responded to Katrina, by using the disaster to rid the Gulf of the poor and people of color, while enriching corporate cronies.

Many of us realize the immense difference in response to 9-11 and Katrina that America would have seen if the Supreme Court had not appointed G.W. Bush, and Al Gore had become President in 2000. Democrats must articulate for the nation at large just what those different kinds of responses would be, and will be. Democrats must take this issue away from Republicans--a pre-emptive strike, if you like.

Democrats must make it clear that with the leadership of government, the cooperation and help of progressive business and unions, and the compassion and commitment of citizens, together we can address both parts of the Climate Crisis simultaneously: we can Fix what needs to be fixed for ourselves and the peoples of the world already in trouble, while we Stop greenhouse gases pollution from destroying the future.

As the news gets worse, some are saying that the "Stop It" efforts are futile and we must concentrate on the "Fix It" efforts. I don't address the futility question this time, though I will.  But for now, I'm treating it as irrelevant. We can't really know the future for certain. I contend that we have a moral responsibility to do our best in both efforts. So I don't see the question of whether or not we believe we've passed the tipping point as a relevant one.

 What is relevant is that we are going to suffer effects as a result of past greenhouse gas pollution--some are suffering them now--no matter what we now do to slow or stop those emissions, and progressives must understand this and include it in their view of the present and near future. What is relevant is that we have a responsibility to stop the damage we are inflicting on the planet and try to save the future, no matter how slim we believe the chances are that we can.  

Problem number 1: When you say "Democrats" you have to include guys like John Dingell, who represents Detroit union labor. He's worse than some Republicans when it comes to the environment.

Problem number 2: Politicians ALWAYS operate in reactive mode. The question is whether, in 2020, it will be too late to apply massive amounts of money to reverse a problem that could have been reversed a lot more cheaply in 2008.

Problem number 3: The "solution" to climate change involves consideration of some global issues that the West hasn't seen fit to consider up until now. For example, plenty of people live in poverty in South Asia. Why is it more of a problem for them to be living in poverty as a result of climate change in the future than it is for them to be living in poverty right now?

Summary: There's lots of coal. If the sea level rises we'll build dikes. If it gets hot, we'll install air conditioning. If the Colorado River dries up, we'll build electric desalination plants.

by asdf on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:08:20 PM EST
He now supports the Senate version, but wants them to reinstate the "distinction between cars and light trucks". The unfortunate translation is that his main support blocs want to keep making SUVs without too much reengineering.

This is also the UAW position. OTOH the manufacturers are still solidly lined up with the Heritage Foundation et al, who reject the underlying idea of problems associated with hydrocarbon fuels, let alone the CAFE standards in question.

It is a slight exaggeration to say that Dingell "represents Detroit union labor" without mentioning Detroit's automobile manufacturing establishment. In this case, though, it may be true - which is 'to the good', even if insufficient.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 08:02:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding #2: How would we reverse the problem in 2008?

If carbon emissions were capped (good luck!), CO2 levels would continue to rise. If If carbon emissions were stopped (dreaming, here...), CO2 levels would take a long time to fall. Global temperatures would continue to rise because the oceans, which moderate climate, will take a decade or more to warm to equilibrium with the present atmosphere. Moreover, Arctic ice would continue to melt, light-colored tundra would continue to darken, etc.

A barely credible hope for 2008 would be slow the rate of increase of emissions, slowing the acceleration of the rise in CO2.

There are ways to stop or reverse warming, but fighting CO2 emissions, even with great success, won't do it in this generation.

Does anyone know of facts that invalidate the above?
If not, then they need to be in our reality base.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Wed Dec 12th, 2007 at 02:29:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The IPCC suggested that total global CO2 emissions be capped within 7 years, in order to prevent severe and irreversable effects. To accomplish this, the West would have to offer LARGE reductions, to counterbalance the inevitable continuing rise of emissions in the third world.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats nor the various parties in Europe--except the Greens--propose such drastic action. That is, they are arguing amongst themselves about how the deck chairs should be arranged. I suppose that having the chairs piled up in a sort of pyramid or tower so that a few of us will last a few minutes longer would be better; at least, that's the position of the so-called Left in the West.

by asdf on Wed Dec 12th, 2007 at 09:33:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"The next President will have to be the FDR of Climate Change, only this President won't have the stark reality of the Depression or World War II in front of the public every day--". Hmm - I wonder.

Iraq may not be WWII, but it's an incremental and integral part of a coming economic shitstorm - Depression may be a slight overstatement, but maybe not. The Shock Doctrine may well apply to the near-future in the U.S.A.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 08:10:43 PM EST
We have our little "local" shock doctrine effects on a regular basis, like the bridge falling down, like every time there's a big ice storm (like today in the midwest) and 300,000 homes are without electricity in freezing weather.  Just examples of how our infrastructure is collapsing or simply not being properly built and maintained because other priorities come first, priorities that enrich the "right" people.  So we're kept worrying about falling into a river or freezing to death, and have less time to fight the bigger fights.

An FDR approach right now in the USA is needed just to make repairs.  It's embarrassing that a technologically advanced country doesn't have its electric lines buried in the ground instead of hanging overhead, for example.  Lots of people could be employed just getting that done.  But those in power would rather have prisons than full employment which could lead to rising wages.

Sorry to ramble on when I should be in bed.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 11:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Climate Crisis Future: Dangers for Democrats

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein quotes notorious neocon economist Milton Friedman as saying that when disaster strikes, politicians grasp whatever ideas are laying around, so it is important to have those ideas out there.  That's another reason it's important to be prepared for Climate Crisis disasters.

It's not only about disasters and politicians. Whenever a paradigm is challenged, whenever what you think you know is shattered by evidence, you don't just build a new paradigm from scratch. You promote your current second-best opinion.

Which means that the alternative paradigm needs to be established in people's minds long before disaster strikes. That's why the ideological situation we've been in for the past 15-20 years, where there is effectively just one discourse, is dangerous.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 18th, 2007 at 02:36:53 PM EST
You put the words on what I was complaining about in the comments to my recent diary.

The alternatives are out there, more developed than we know ; the problem being, that practically noone knows about them.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Dec 18th, 2007 at 03:22:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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