the title of the latest editorial in Nature, one of the planet's
premier scientific journals. "The
political inertia that characterizes the world’s response to global
warming cannot continue. Politicians and policy-makers must follow
the climate’s lead — and change." I have been citing James
Hansen for years proclaiming the same thing. But others in the
scientific climate community have been uneasy with Hansen, both the
results of his research, which once were more dire than the consensus
, and for his speaking out with ever greater urgency. The
conventional wisdom goes that this is the job of activists, not
scientists and policy-makers. But now voices from unexpected places
are joining in, like the IEA, and now Nature
but my reader may answer, Obama's eloquent victory speech highlighted
climate change as something our government must tackle. Many of us
had spoken quietly about the possibility that a second-term Obama,
freed from the necessity of re-election, might actually become a
leader in this great struggle. Quietly because we, as good
Democrats, weren't supposed to rock the strategy of ignoring climate
as an election issue; it might lose votes for our guy. So how will
this play out, this political game with arguably the highest stakes
in human history?
a family gathering a couple of weeks after the election, I learned
from a leading international zoologist and ecologist that, in a
private meeting of major international consultants, a high-ranking
elected official from the Democratic Party let it be known that
“climate change is not on the agenda” for the new administration.
We feel good when we hear our leader publicly acknowledge our issues.
But in private, secretly, it's the same old smart, odds-playing
photogenic waffle who has been re-elected. I was devastated by this
news, overshadowing the family wedding we were attending. But the
bearer of the news would not let me off the hook. Was I dedicating
my life to working for political solutions? Was I doing absolutely
everything possible to change my own lifestyle? The answer in both
cases was no. I see myself as caring deeply, but show up for battle
in the climate wars mostly when it's convenient.
should we blame Obama? In 2009, a tiny Bolivian peasant woman
confronted the towering George Lakey, a prominent Quaker activist who
was speaking at a training, saying, “Why have you abandoned your
president?” Politicians are more followers than leaders, and if we
don't exert pressure making climate change impossible to ignore
politically, then it's ourselves we have to blame, not the President.
Obama's characteristic prudence makes this even more of an
Hansen is disgusted with Washington's stone-walling climate change,
both nationally and internationally. He wrote me several months ago
that he has given up trying to influence our government, working
instead with the Chinese. They are seriously considering a carbon
tax, as both he and Al Gore report. May it be a bold one. With a
generational change in leadership underway, it is an opportunity for
a new approach. In the case of the US, with carefully designed
checks and balances, a carbon tax is not workable in the foreseeable
future. Unfortunately, this is the only future we have.
a system that too often promotes gridlock, there is room for action
from the executive. Last term, the President supported the EPA in
setting tough vehicle emissions standards to be in place for vehicles
model years 2017- 2025 (maybe too late). Then, with court backing,
the EPA was able to put in place standards for power plants, cutting
their allowed emissions in half. This is significant, since feeding
the electric grid creates 40% of emissions. The ruling effectively
kills any new coal-fired plants and opens the door to natural gas
facilities, which meet those standards. But this is where the
industry was heading anyway. Meanwhile, as David Roberts outlines in Grist, NRDC has put together a clever proposal for
significantly reducing emissions from old coal-fired plants, one that
gets around inflexible national standards, allowing each state to
create its own pathway towards achieving the mandated level of
reductions on the same “fleet-wide” basis applied to automakers.
Permanently refuse permits for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,
because tar-oil is among the most dangerous of the
planet-heating forms of carbon.
2. Call a National Summit Conference on
the Climate Crisis that includes leaders ofbusiness, labor, academia, religious
communities, governmental officialdom, science, and other relevant bodies .
3. Publicly support and advocate for a
carbon fee that will generate hundreds of billions of dollars, with provisions to
ensure that working families and the poor are not harmed by higher carbon prices; for
an end to subsidies to the coal, oil and gas industries; and for substantial
subsidies for research, development, and use
renewable, sustainable and jobs-creating clean energy sources.
Aguto, climate point-person for FCNL, writes that negotiations
are in process with the White House for fulfilling number two. A
request for sign-ons from leaders in all of these areas is circulating widely. The President knows what the
environmental activist community thinks about the issue. Does
anybody else care enough to make this a politically viable issue?
wife Geeta and I plan to be at the IMAC pray-in, staying on through
the inauguration, pressing the issue. We need not only to pressure
the president, but also the Congress. Let's greet the new congress
by camping out in representatives offices, Stay at it. Fill the
jails if necessary. When the civil rights movement came to a head
in 1961 in Birmingham, it required an entire fleet of buses to ferry
the high school students who led the action to jail. Once all the
jails were filled, Bull Connor's men had to use pens at the state
fairgrounds to incarcerate these brave kids. Six months later,
Connor was out of office, and segregation's back had been broken.
is the kind of movement we need to build. We need to build it now.
Words are not enough.