Saturday, March 07, 2009

Greens hit the street, Coal visits the governor.

The entire environmental movement has had a series of well publicized, heavily hyped actions that were intended to pull Americans together, get them behind a movement to save our planet and to make sure that our elected officials are listening to us. The list includes Step it Up National Day of Climate Action, Earth Hour 2008 / 2009, and its international Day of Climate Action.

While all of this mass movement has been gathering, the facts are that the opposition, those for whom the continued exploitation of dwindling petroleum reserves and ever more ecological destructive coal, oil shale or tar sands makes them rich are doing what they have always done. They lobby the lawmakers and law enforcers and they flood the airways with mass media advertising that convinces the public that global warming is a myth, or at worst something we can deal with when the technology is ready. They convinced legislatures and executives that our economy can not afford to back away from cheap energy now. They are successful and the mass movements are not growing. In fact, in the United States, Global Warming is rapidly dropping off the poll lists as a major concern of the voting public.

For clues as to why we remain clueless, please click Read more!.

We are ever exhorted to join the masses in the great awakening. Ted Glick, who went on a hunger strike for carbon freedom is ever at the forefront of this mass movement activism, as he wrote this week on the demonstrations at a coal fired power plant in the nations capitol.
Throughout this jubilant day, there was a palpable sense of a psychological line being crossed which has had a parallel in all great movements for nonviolent social change. It is the moment when a movement becomes aware that it is tapping into the immensely strong and unstoppable power of truth. It is a time of spiritual awakening, when seekers of change suddenly realize they have unleashed an infinite force far beyond the strength of any individuals - what Gandhi referred to as ‘satyagraha.’
For all of his optimism, Glick's mass movement has failed to materialize. In 2006, 68% of Americans thought government should do more about global warming. Today, it ranked dead last in a Pew Center poll.

The congruence of events this past week points out just how bad things are and why we need to start doing things differently. On March 2, demonstrators blocked the entrance to a coal fired power plant in Washington DC. This plant provide energy to many places, including the Capitol Building. When it did make the national news, it was coupled with a statement from Nancy Pelosi that there was already a bill in Congress that will change this to a gas fired plant. I doubt that this bill will emerge from the depths of our legislative mine. Some even said that This is What Democracy Looks Like.

It would have been so encouraging if I did not know that lobbyists were busy turning NY Governor David Patterson in to a hypocrite. Patterson was one of those governors who gained a lot of credit for backing a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Along with California's Governor Schwarzenegger, he was held a an example of what progressive, environmentally responsible government could accomplish. Against the backdrop of the Bush administration policies, it was a significant step forward. The NY Times put Patterson on page A-1 Thursday, just three days after the Demonstrations in Washington.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which New York signed onto four years ago, established a system whereby power producers were required to obtain what are called allowances, which permit them to release certain levels of carbon dioxide emissions. They typically obtain the allowances by buying them at auction or trading them.
But if this is the public position, the Times laid out what really happened.
Mr. Patterson appeared to overrule the State Department of Environmental Conservation in making the move, which would reopen state regulations to provide power plants leeway to release greater amounts of emissions at no additional cost. Administration officials said the governor was concerned the rule might unfairly burden the energy industry.

His decision infuriated environmental groups, which learned of Mr. Paterson’s decision just this week, though he met with energy executives privately last fall and assured them he would take the step.

I really hate the way that economists can hide basic truths behind their convoluted technical terminology, but UCLA's Matthew I Kahn does a great job of explaining why Patterson's actions are so potentially damaging.
If business people anticipate that politicians cannot credibly commit to keep certain policies in place and that lobbying can reverse these policies, then many dirty firms will not invest in costly "green" technology but instead will hire firms to lobby the political leaders.
I would never have thought to look for this in a blog entry entitled Time Consistent Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Policy but luckily I follow most of what Kahn cares to blog about. Patterson's actions are the equivalent of economists also call "moral hazard". In the bailout of banks and securities firms, the government appeared to send the signal that taking extraordinary risk with other people's money is OK if you are "too big to fail." It now seems that you can argue that the economy needs cheap energy right now and do anything you want no matter how much it damages the economy or how much is will cost future generations to repair or mitigate that damage.

Ted Glick and Bill McKibben, and all of the other generals in the Climate Change War need to start re-thinking their tactics. In the long run there is no question that they have the right goals. But when you are losing the war, it is time to change tactics. When big coal and big petroleum organizations have the power to recruit at will through their massive ad campaigns efforts like those listed above gain little, not even the headlines.

Maybe it is time to start challenging PBS, whose News Hour and Nightly Business Reports are routinely sponsored by extractive industries and their trade organizations. That being the case, then we should strike the word Public from their name.

Since the power to be a hypocrite seems vested in those Democratic politicians who talk the best game, it is time to make sure that they have Green opposition that is uncompromising on those issues, that will tell the world that Patterson's energy policies are no better that Dick Cheney's. They both negotiated deals with the energy industry behind closed doors. The NY Times and all should be demanding that Patterson produce the records of these secret meetings in the same manner that they demanded that Cheney produce his.

I am not hopeful that such a challenge will happen. Most major environmental organizations are too closely tied to the Democratic Party to raise any kind of challenge. When looking for a statement in opposition to Patterson's actions, they went to the Environmental Advocates of New York… not the Sierra Club nor Natural Resources Defense Council. It is not mentioned at Gristmill or Climate Progress. They are all too busy trying to get Carbon Trading passed and this is a prime example of why Carbon Trading will not work.

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