Thursday, January 10, 2008

Climate Change and the Presidential Election

I think that the Green Party has a problem with Climate Change. I don't think that very many in the party would disagree with the fact that this is probably the single most important issue for the 21st Century. It truly is the "Inconvenient Truth." It is inconvenient because to address the issue in realistic terms may well be detrimental to our achieving the role that some see for the Green Party.

The emotional allegiance of many Greens is to the Peace Movement. Whether this manifests itself in terms of peace activism, or in terms of the effort to impeach Bush and Cheney, Greens are very much invested in action, driven by the immediacy of event. The Iraq War continues month after agonizing month. The Defense Department is now talking about a "surge" in Afghanistan. It is now and demands action now.

The climate crisis that we face has yet to achieve that level of urgency among the general public, and Greens are a part of that general public. As CoChair of the EcoAction Committee, I only hear from one activist who expresses this urgency, 2004 Green Presidential Candidate Lorna Salzman.

That sense of urgency is coming from the scientific community. Richard C. J. Somerville(Climatologist: Scripps Institution for Oceanography - La Jolla) was a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and participated in the Bali Conference last December. He reflected on that Conference in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists this week.
At subsequent climate negotiations, the important question will be whether governments are willing to implement and enforce an effective agreement to halt the rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other pollutants that cause global warming. My personal view is that governments, especially democratically elected ones, will respond to the will of their people. And what will it take to make large numbers of people increase the priority that they now give to this issue? Perhaps it will take some sudden, shocking, and unambiguous climate event such as the destabilization of a large part of the Greenland ice sheet and a sharp increase in sea level. The ozone hole would be a parallel case historically. It would be a pity if we needed to wait for that, which is like waiting to have a heart attack rather than heeding a physician's warnings about cholesterol and weight. In climate science as in medical science, prevention is better than a cure, but not everybody is wise enough to act early.
The analogy to having a global heart attack is apt. It may be the metaphor that makes clear the seriousness of the situation for all. Even Governor Huckabee heeded the advice of his doctor to lose weight and exercise more.

Yet, if Green push this issue too hard, we may perpetuate the image that we are a group of "limousine liberals hugging trees." as Mother Jones writer Debra Dickerson commented on NPR this morning. This is all the more disconcerting in that the entire discussion on NPR revolved around the candidacy of Cynthia McKinney and this was the impression that influential black bloggers have of us.

This is overwhelming (to me)evidence that we need a new narrative.

The ecological view of the world is one where all things are linked together, complex perhaps beyond casual understanding, networks of relationship rather than hierarchies, dominated by feedback loops that can bring unintended consequences when we don't understand what we are doing. If that is the Green world view, then it isn't just about being tree huggers. It is about national security, as Kent Mesplay reminds us. It is about the economy, as in this question offered by EcoAction CoChair Frank Jeffers (GA) for the Presidential Debate.
If already existing houses were made more energy efficient to reduce electricity consumption it would have many benefits. These include increasing the true value of the house, not the speculative value. The true property value of a community would increase. The net worth of the owners would increase. The size of the estate they could pass on to the next generation would increase. Their effective income would increase. Jobs in the community would increase to get the work done, circulating money within the community.

The consumption of coal in power plants would decrease. This would decrease coal combustion wastes which are carcinogenic. This would decrease air pollution, that keeps kids from learning. This would decrease carbon dioxide production, helping the global warming problem. This would decrease mountaintop removal to mine coal.

The problem is how to finance the upfront cost of making existing houses more energy efficient.

What would you suggest to get this job done?

We must, in all of our dealings, begin to recognize that the solutions to may problems surface when you begin to think like an ecologist. We must begin to address the real problems of real people with Green solutions. Art Goodtimes has been elected to three terms as a County Supervisor in Colorado by first listening to the people's needs and then offering Green solutions. Hillary Clinton turned her New Hampshire campaign around when she stopped lecturing and started to listen.

While Al Gore's doomsday scenario may be the one to get press coverage, it may not be the one that gets everyone on board the train. As Jeffers explains (above) there are many problems that have one cure and that is to get better housing for those who can not afford it.

I think that we understand the problem. We need candidates who challenge us to be better than we have been, who call us to work together, who use the rhetoric of a Barack Obama but have put it in the service of a Green Future.

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