I hope I am wrong but I don't think I am. With the midterm elections fast approaching and the Republicans in almost total meltdown over their mismanagement of Iraq, the congress and just about any issue one can think of, it is easy to be a Democrat right now. However, assuming that Democrats win control of the House and/or the Senate in about a month, the easy life will be over. With power comes responsibility and on the issue of global warming, I don't think the Dems get it yet. Whether they will ultimately be up to enacting serious climate change legislation will depend I think in large part on progressives in the blogosphere and elsewhere. I explain my thinking below.
President Bush's policies toward climate change have been a disaster. The republican-controlled Congress has punted on the issue, or worse, put idiots like Senator Jim Inhofe in key environmental positions. Nobody believes President Bush's position of relying on voluntary actions and modest increases in R&D will reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near the amount they need to be reduced. Only government regulations that put a cost on greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and industry, pushing them to transition to renewable resources along with other actions like requiring efficiency standards on buildings and applicances, greatly improved mileage standards for cars, etc. have any chance of making the necessary emissions reductions.
Urgent action is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Al Gore's movie "An Incovenient Truth" illustrates why action is required. Dr James Hansen, NASA climate scientist, has recently published results which lay out the case that global average surface temperature is one degree Celsius from dangerous climate change. Global average surface temperature is increasing at a rate of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. To prevent dangerous climate change, it is not sufficient to merely stop at current levels the ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Emissions, particularly emissions from the world's largest polluter the United States, must be drastically reduced. To reduce the emissions well below where they are now will require massive changes. These changes will affect how we generate our electricity, the kinds of cars we drive and the energy efficiency requirements of our buildings and our appliances. But perhaps most of all, confronting the scope of the changes we must make to keep our planet liveable, will forever eliminate the notion that pollution from our cheap energy lifestyle doesn't come with a cost and can be treated as an externality.
My misgivings about the Dems readiness to seriously address global warming is not that I believe they are global warming deniers or that they don't believe something must be done. I expect most of them accept climate change science and are willing to look at climate change legislation. There has even been some legislation proposed in the Senate and House, Kerry & Snowe , Jeffords (pdf file) and Waxman (pdf file) , that recognize the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emission we must make over the next few decades. My fear however is that many Dems think this is just another environmental issue they need to be on the right side of and have not really engaged on the scope of what must be done, the urgency required, the costs that must be incurred to make the necessary changes to our economy and our way of life or, most importantly, the planet altering impacts of not acting. Furthermore my fear is that since Dems have yet to raise climate change as a priority issue in any election they are not prepared for the political fight ahead.
In addition to many Dems thinking this is just another environmental issue to be handled in due course, the Dems also know it is a controversial issue, due largely to the efforts of companies like Exxon Mobil, the coal companies and allies like those at the Competive Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Think of how hard it has been to get the Dems to show some backbone and take on the Republican spin machine on terrorism or to provide specifics on how to resolve the war in Iraq. Now multiply that by a factor of 10. As soon as it looks like serious global warming legislation might actually be voted on in congress, the lobbyists and special interests from every office and cublicle on K street will be taking our Dem Senators and Representatives aside and "explaining" to them why they don't need to act right now, why their client needs an exemption from the regulations, why there will be an economic crisis if the legislation passes and wouldn't it be so much easier to support a few piecemeal items like more subsidies for ethanol, which by the way will help the farmers in their district. There will be massive publicity campaigns designed to scare voters into calling their Democratic Senators and Representatives and telling them not to enact this legislation because it will cause the price of fuel, electricity, food, housing etc to go up. And frankly, even though the special interests will totally exaggerate the extent to which people will be affected, there will be a kernal of truth to what they are telling voters. To really address climate change will require affecting the lives of almost everyone in the country because our lives are so dependent on fossil fuels and it will cost money and a longterm commitment to make the transition to renewable energy. And how many people believe the Republicans will join the Dems in trying to enact meaningful global warming legislation? A few might but given their recent history the vast majority of Republicans will choose to use it as a wedge issue and claim that Dems just want to raise your taxes, tell you how to run your business and besides global warming will have many beneficial effects.The Dems will have quite a headwind to overcome if they are going to enact serious climate change legislation. It is true nothing will happen until Bush is gone but the campaign for 2008 starts on November 8. If the Dems are going to enact serious global warming legislation they will need to campaign on it as a priority issue. The only way to make the kinds of changes that need to be made is to get a mandate in an election. There will be a temptation to enact piecemeal bits of legislation that on the surface appear to be helping to address the problem but in reality do little to stem the emissions of greenhouse gases. If they are going to enact global warming legislation that addresses the issue in a comprehensive way, many will need to feel a greater amount of pressure to act than to not act. They will need to feel it is urgent that they act and that the issue not be allowed to be slow walked to oblivion where in effect, the planet's fate is decided by allowing inertia to set our course. Who will provide that pressure and that sense of urgency that the Dems need to overcome the special interest headwinds and the inertia that would leave us on a dangerouse business as usual course? Are activist progressives up to the job? This will be a test for the blogosphere and other activists as well as the politicians.
Crossposted at BlueClimate