Where Does Green Go From Here?

Jeff Alworth

Where Does Green Go From Here?

Windmills south of Goldendale, Washington.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and it seems like each new edition comes with a darker backdrop. In the past couple years, the number of people who believe that climate change is even real has declined sharply; never mind finding the political will to address it head on. For every step we take forward--improved fuel efficiency standards, growth of alternative energy, the rise of organic and local agriculture--we seem to take five backward. We know the glaciers are melting, species are dying, the world's use of carbon-based energy is rising, climate patterns are changing, leaving some regions to desertify while others swim in new swamps. And all the while, political will evaporates.

In the past year, there were good signs: the House managed to pass the Waxman Markey cap-and-trade bill, and the world convened to discuss international action on climate change. But then we have the usual steps backward: Copenhagen ended with a fizzle, and cap-and-trade isn't just dead in the Senate, the term itself has become so unpopular it's been shelved.

The Pacific Northwest stands to be one of America's losers on a warming planet (forest fires, drought, lost fisheries, farms, forests, and ranches), and yet all three major Republican candidates for governor have said they "were not ready to apportion the blame between humans and nature." So here's the question. On this fortieth Earth Day, where should those of us from the reality-based community direct our efforts? What's the future of environmentalism over the next, critical forty years? Are there any bright spots that give you hope?

Comments

  • (Show?)

    The recently expanded bottle bill gives me hope. Now, let's bring it in line with inflation and expand it to include a wide variety of recyclables.

    Side topic - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's speech kind of creeps me out.

    http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/techtonicshifts/archive/2010/04/22/facebook-f8-internet-open-social-graph-semantic-web-twitter.aspx

    Is our recently revamped water cooler contributing to Facebook's master plan?

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    The only thing green about the green movement today is the cash that marketing and PR firms get for pimping everything as "green"

    As for the green job fixation of our leaders in Oregon, green jobs are great. So are red jobs, yellow jobs, violet jobs and some magenta jobs are kinda okay too.

    • (Show?)

      Steve's point is a great one about the absurdity of people's priorities.

      I agree with Michael, and would go further. Greenwash is as immoral as whitewashing our using the environment as a toilette.

      Where does it go from here? Is it going anywhere?

      This sounds like a story about when Marshall met Eisenhower the first time, MacArthur said, "He's going places". Marshall wrote that he noticed that he was a major and in his mid 40s, and thought, "he had better get moving if he's going places". He didn't know that MacArthur had a letter in his file that basically said, "when the next big one starts, move this guy to the head of the class".

      The point is that is how the US typically does things. The worry is that the decision makers think that's an option. It's not. We've got to get over our football mentality and not go for the "hail mary" pass. These needs to be a game of chess. We're black. The opening game is all important to winning.

  • (Show?)

    The green fad is finally fizzing out.

    I wonder what the next fad will be?

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    I’m fully with Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong, who writes on his blog (here):

    “So right now I am panicking. And in my panicked state, I become shrill and unrealistic. So I am calling for four actions--at least one of which, in particular, is robustly unappealing. 1. “Beg the rulers of China and India to properly understand their long-term interests; 2. “Nationalize the energy industry in the United States; 3. “Pour money into research on closed-carbon and non-carbon energy technologies in order to maximize the chance that we will get lucky on energy technologies if not on climate sensitivity. 4. “Restrict future climate negotiations to a group of seven -- the U.S., the E.U., Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil -- and enforce agreement by substantial and painful trade sanctions on countries that do not accept the demands of the resulting negotiated system.”

    I particularly like DeLong’s take on China and India:

    “But China, India and their neighbors in the great river valleys of Asia will soon be home to three billion farming peasants. These farmers depend on the regular monsoon rains and the river flows of the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, the Yangtze, and the Yellow Rivers. Global warming means their climate will change. There will either be much more precipitation in the valleys feeding the rivers, or much less. If there is much less, hundreds of millions will face drought and famine. If there is much more, millions will likely die in floods and the dwelling and working places of hundreds of millions will be washed away. Unlike North Americans, Asia’s peasant-farming populations are not rich enough simply to adapt.

    “So we need to beg the rulers of China and India to understand their long-term interests. The welfare of their countries over the next four generations depends on gaining rapid control of global warming. Their own personal survival — unless they want mobs descending on their homes, dragging them and their descendants into the streets — depends on it. And because either China or India is going to be the globe’s dominant superpower in a century, even if they are clobbered by climate change, pleasing that future superpower now is in every country’s interest. So we need to beg the rulers of China and India to recognize their own long-term interest, and to help us get this climate-control party started.”

    What we can do in Oregon is work on all forms of reducing carbon emissions. I like to see a statewide, phased-in, revenue neutral gas or carbon tax. But, lacking that, other smaller actions help. To increase our effectiveness in begging China and India, we should teach more of our students their languages and send them to those countries in large numbers as high school students through high school study abroad programs.

    • (Show?)

      Dave, I'm pretty much with Brad, too. Panic time!

      As for India and China, the two are always used in the same sentence because of their populations. But they should be treated separately. China uses far more coal and will have far more car-users in the next two decades. But China is also democracy-free, and so can take some unilateral steps on alternative energy--and is doing so.

      India, by contrast, is advancing more slowly, but like America, has a large and diverse democracy. Whether it can make any more progress than we have on curbing carbon output is an open question. But I suspect Indians have a better innate sense of the repercussions of climate change--they have long been far closer to the razor's edge than the US ever has.

  • (Show?)

    If we want (and we should want) China and India to get serious about climate change then the U.S. federal government pursuing "cap and trade" (or whatever one wants to call it) will not set the example we need to show to other countries. In his new (and only) book, Dr. James Hansen explains in detail as to why "cap and trade" will be ineffective: the system will bring about an increase in fossil-fuel costs, but not enough of a difference such that it would cause people to change their lifestyles. And "cap and trade" sets a floor on CO-2 output: if the carbon-emission credits are not to be used, they'd have no value. Therefore, a certain level of CO-2 emissions is practically mandated. And, there's the issue of the dubious carbon-offsets, which allow the permit holder to not change behavior at all. Also included in Waxman-Markey and I'm sure will also be in Kerry-Graham-Liebermen are $70 billion subsidies for a fantasy called "clean coal" and stripping of the EPA of its authority to regulate CO-2. Good (even GREAT) solutions are available: "fee and dividend", whereby a true environmental costs of fossil fuel usage would be factored into a much higher price to be paid for these fuels, along with a yearly dividend check to each U.S. citizen, with the funding for that coming from the monies raised by increasing fossil fuel prices. Therefore, if an individual reduces his/her carbon footprint, he/she might actually come out a few bucks ahead. That's an effective incentive.

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    Stephen, I agree that the bill that passed the house is less than ideal. But I'd take it in a heartbeat. Sadly, even it is a pipe dream now--we'll be lucky to get any legislation through before 2012.

    • (Show?)

      Jeff, the fact of us not being able to get anything would say that we might as well press for something that will work. I think a version of Waxman-Markey becoming law is actually even more dangerous than there being no federal legislation at all, as a large part of the public will be lulled into complacency, thinking that the issue has been addressed.

      In his book Hansen also describes what actually happened to help alleviate the acid rain problem- Hansen says a shift to more use of low-sulfur coal was responsible for the improvement, not the cap-and-trade mechanism.

      And, we know what DeFazio thinks of Waxman-Markey: on the KPOJ morning program, he described having one of his transportation committee's concerns being addressed in the bill as having been "given a deck chair on the Titanic."

      We have no time to waste dithering about with false solutions!

      • (Show?)

        And here's Bill McKibben on Waxman Markey: "Look at Waxman-Markey, which has just been revised to cut emissions by just 17% by 2020-- and even that comes loaded with loopholes written to win over particular congressmen with particular coal mines.

        If we let the planet keep warming, we won't be able to shut the cycle off- we're clearly much closer to that kind of tipping point than we imagined just a few years ago. Half a job (i.e., passing ineffective legislation) may not be better than no job at all."

        So, this threat to life on Earth ranks with complete nuclear war-annihilation and with the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. That is no exaggeration.

        One would think a leader (Obama?) would try to rise above the politics and describe the threat for what it truly is. And, in doing so, demand action that is commensurate to the threat.

        (Rather than playing childish political games, such as cutting off technological aid to Bolivia because Bolivia did not agree to the farce that was the Copenhagen agreement).

  • (Show?)

    Paul Krugman had a long piece in the New York Times a week ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/magazine/11Economy-t.html

    It's a good summary of the need to address the climate crisis, how we'll deal with China's emissions, (carbon import tariff) and the challenge of economists discounting future benefits.

    It also takes on some of Hansen's concerns. There aren't perfect solutions, just like our other laws. We just need to move forward on one, or perhaps both (i.e. cap-and-dividend for some sectors, pollution tax for some other sectors).

    To paraphrase the President of the Maldives from his piece in The Economist, we're trying to negotiate with Mother Nature, and she's not in the mood to compromise on this.

    • (Show?)

      Evan Manvet,

      We have a disagreement on the history. In Hansen's book he says the real sulfur reductions were accomplished by a switch to lower-sulfur coal- he says the portrayal of that cap-and-trade as having been successful is a canard advanced by interests who will benefit from cap-and-trade.

      As Krugman says, it would be practically impossible to monitor and thus tax carbon emissions at the million (billions?) of points at which they enter the atmosphere.

      But it seems to me that Krugman does not consider merely raising the price of the fossil fuels- dramatically- in order to discourage their usage. And along with a rebate-dividend check to all citizens (so, users of lots of fossil fuels would be stuck with really high energy prices and, also, a dividend check that's nowhere near enough to cover the cost increases. Poorer people who are stuck in a situation that can't easily change may break about even. People who have the ability to cut fossil-fuel usage -and most of us do- would come out ahead, financially).

      Hansen thinks the cap-and-trade would raise energy prices somewhat, but not enough to affect behavior much, because the energy companies don't want to touch off a financial panic (which would happen if there weren't dividend checks to help defray the higher costs). So we'd all be stuck with somewhat higher energy costs and no real reductions in emissions, under cap-and-trade. And the right-wingers will foment the hate about higher costs and the environmentalists will be upset that the most serious problem ever is not being addressed.

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    i dont see all this green this green that doing anything to get oregons double digit unemployment rate down.give it up liberals.

    • (Show?)

      Matthew Scott Yantress,

      You should vote for the liberal, environmental advocate Mr. Bill Bradbury, because he has an idea to replicate what they have in North Dakota: a state-owned and run bank, which can leverage deposits 10x and will have as its sole purpose capitalization of Oregon businesses (jobs, dude!).

      Sorry but your greedy private banks are very stingy these days with the business loans.

  • (Show?)

    Here is Dr. James Hansen's latest article on climate change:

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2010/20100405_ObamaSecondChance.pdf

    And, as the title of the article says, this is the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century.

    That being the case, we all (our political leaders included), need to start laying out what really needs to be done to arrest this crisis. It needs to be layed out ad infinitum until the politics change and the way is cleared for effective action (which isn't cap-and-trade or clean coal).

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