||[Dec. 6th, 2007|11:08 am]
Environment, Economy, & Equality in Development
In the public realm, there are two things that I could say I am passionate about: sustainability issues, and politics. So naturally, the places those overlap are pretty important to me; while issues of peace, education, the justice system, and health care are all front and center for me, where a politician stands on environmental issues can pretty much be a deal-maker or -breaker for me. Ditto for political organizations, or ones that attempt to wield power in some form that we might as well call political.|
Organizations such as the National Resource Defense Council, for instance; I was shocked and disappointed last year when I got a mailer from them proclaiming that the answer to our habit of driving way too much was that we could still do it with the right technology and subsidies! Well, yay. No need to restore community infrastructure or local agriculture, or--gulp--make any adjustments to our lifestyle whatsoever.
This came to mind today when Matt Stoller (of openleft.com, my favorite site for political analysis and commentary) laid it on thick today: "Degraded organizations like Frances Beinecke's starfucking obsessed NRDC and the utterly corrupt and industry-owned Environmental Defense don't work." For those not familiar with Matt's colorful and combative style, my suggested translation is, "I've had it with proclamations of environmentalism from people who just want to be hip, or are actually covering up horrendous intentions."
And he has a point. His comment was in response to a climate change bill that passed out of the Senate's Environment Committee last night, which he has a lot of problems with. The biggest one is that it sets up a cap-and-trade system which theoretically uses market forces to get people to reduce their pollution most cost-effectively... but this bill (written by independent Sen. Lieberman and Republican Sen. Warner) subsidizes the cost to coal-burning plants, passing the burden of carbon reduction on to everyone but the largest corporate polluters, and handing hundreds of billions of dollars of tax revenue to those polluters.
His other big problem is with environmental groups and progressives who are doing what's easy, not what's right. For instance, while most environmental groups have opposed this bill -- likely calculating that if a Democrat enters the White house a year from now, we could see leadership towards something much better -- they haven't had anything to say about the ones that have endorsed it. A political movement's health can be measured by its ability to have internal debates, but it seems like everyone's acting like there's no difference in opinion here. (The NRDC actually helped write part of this bill, so of course they're supporting it.)
And not just groups, but individuals as well. Sen. Boxer is often considered a strong progressive, but on this issue she has clearly disappointed. She shut down amendments in committee to improve it, and now lauds the authors for "breaching the partisan divide" -- as if that was somehow the global threat to life as we know it.
This is frustrating of course, but ultimately it serves mainly to illustrate the state of environmental politics today. As the environmental movement gains popular credibility, it also gains political power. Right now that's being siphoned off to provide "green-washing" for people who want to look good, but there are plenty of politicians and organizations who take this seriously and aren't going away. The big question for me remains: when will this issue develop to being a point of serious political debate? With the Lieberman-Warner bill now headed for the full Senate -- but a far better bill having been raised in the House -- one can only hope this instance might amount to more than an illustration.
UPDATE: If this post made you feel less hopeful -- about the strength of the environmental movement or the hope of getting meaningful climate change legislation -- there's also reason to take heart. I meant it when I said there are also plenty of good-faith actors, and they've just achieved a huge success in the House. Also, regarding the Senate bill, John Edwards actually gets it. What do you know?
This is real progress.
[Cross-posted on Progressives]