Comprising positions on climate change

There's an interesting but frustrating little essay up at Grist, which has become the go-to publication to follow the fate of the Waxman-Markey bill as it wends its way through Congress. Frequent columnist Gar Lipow argues that

Mainstream environmentalists who take the position that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill "could be worse" help ensure that it will be.

I take it he thinks those who want to see the United States embrace serious climate change mitigation strategies should be working hard to strengthen the bill. Sure.

Proclaiming "It could be worse" makes the bill in its current form the ASKING PRICE for the environmental movement. It becomes the unrealistically leftist goal, which moderates will dilute to something more "reasonable."

True, but Lipow also writes that "Publicly proclaiming willingness to live with the bill in its current firm gives nobody any leverage to strengthen it." And here I must diverge. The environmental community has made it clear that it is split on the bill's merits. Everyone who cares about climate change knows Waxman-Markey is far weaker than what we need. That's what Al Gore told members of The Climate Project last week as he asked them to pressure their congressmen and senators to support the bill. That's also what Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth argue, only they conclude that they can't support the bill until it's strengthened.

As I wrote last week, such diversity of opinion is healthy, and helps define the center closer to something we can live with, something that might actually offer a chance of averting catastrophic climate change. (Joe Romm puts that at just 10-20% right now, based on the bill in its current form.) The challenge is to get those who don't care about the climate to accept that all the compromises made so far have been made by environmentalists. If the environmental movement was unanimous in rejecting the bill, what support for the bill does exist would evaporate and the bill will die. If the community accepted it en masse, those opposed to capping greenhouse gas emissions would indeed ask for more concessions.

But if climate activists grudging accept the bill as a necessary compromise, there might be a chance Waxman-Markey will survive in some useful form.

The most important thing climate change activists can do now, in my opinion, is spread this meme: that Waxman-Markey is a compromise. A big compromise. if we can get that into the heads of Republicans and Democrats in the pocket of Big Oil and Coal, then the chances of the bill being further watered down will decline significantly. It's a compromise. The environmental movement isn't happy with it. The fossil-fuel lobby has already extracted huge concessions. These are the notions that should be floating around the noosphere in the halls of Congress.

This is why I'll be revisiting this theme ad naseum for the next little while. Others might call this framing. I call it good communications strategy.

Repeat after me: "Environmentalists compromised on Waxman-Markey."


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If the environmental movement was unanimous in rejecting the bill, what support for the bill does exist would evaporate and the bill will die.

The key question is whether that would be a Bad Thing.

There is an argument that you only get one chance at a subject like this every decade or so: once the Voting Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the subject was pretty much exhausted for years. If Congress had passed a weaker bill, would we have had a chance to fix it under Nixon? Ford? Carter? Reagan? Bush 41?

If it had failed in 1964, would Johnson have been able, after his landslide reelection and a lot more grass-roots work, to pass a stronger bill a couple of years later? We'll never know.

Politics is a crap shoot, but one lesson is that you may be able to retry your failures, but very rarely get a chance to revisit your successes.

In the present case, I honestly don't know the odds. I don't trust anyone who says that they do.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 26 May 2009 #permalink

Good point. I quote Joe Romm's figure estimating the chance W-M will be able to accomplish anything only to suggest that even supporters of the W-M aren't all that hopefull. As for predicting legislative success, that is indeed a massive crap shoot.

Well, let's temper all this "I'm a seasoned activist and have seen so much failure I'm depressed and therefore can tell you quote: these things take time or quote: it is now or never" ridiculous claptrap. The fact is, nobody knows what might happen, or what would have happened if the voting rights act didn't pass, same for Waxman-Markey.

IF we had a coalition responsible enough to say "No Compromise" then we might also have the ears of the public perk up and perhaps join the struggle for some integrity in our approach to the environmental question.

I'm so sick of compromise I could vomit. What happens is the losers (I suspect they are planted or supplanted) say junk like "this is our only chance" and "look how long it took us to get this far" or "the public just doesn't care".

All of these things look true, but what also happens is that compromised bills get passed that barely scratch the surface of the issue, then the perception out there is "Well those folks got what they wanted and nothing really happened and they are still complaining!" makes us all look like we dont know what the hell we are doing.

Sending shout out's and alerts to support xyz Bill then complaining that it wasn't good enough... its destructive to our rep. and confusing to the public.

A united front with integrity would get some support. We can say "I told you so" and "I know how to fix it" because the truth is, that for 50 years "We were right", so that fact should be capitalized upon, meanwhile the track record of the 'Powers That Be' is just about ZILCH.

C'mon, it is not a brand new campaign! We have a legacy of compromise and marginal success. How about trying something the stalwart enviro old timers are too frail to have faith in... ?

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