Innovative Deception

via Yglesias, the folks who makeup the political opposition to the climate bill have been working nights and weekends, but luckily they’re not coming up with much:

Seven months after first trying to re-brand congressional climate change legislation as an “energy tax,” Senate Republicans were back at it today with a new report and op-ed that attempts to expose the climate bill as a “$3.6 trillion gas tax.”

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Kit Bond (R-MO) gathered outside the Capitol today, flanked by aides wearing black stickers imprinted with the slogan “CAP & TRADE = GAS TAX,” to promote a new report [PDF] that presents their “gas tax” assertions.

There’s plenty of reasons at the link why this re-branding is lame, wrong and just might work (hey, there’s  slogan!). But holy Chateau D’ what If, batman, what if that proposition was granted? That even though the numbers don’t support it, what if the climate bill was construed as a gas tax ( you know, the gas tax that’s actually needed)? Now, Bailey, Hutchinson et al are doing it simply on the basis of knowing that Amur’cans will reject any tax out of hand, especially a gas tax. But, and this is where we could really use the guile of Edmond Dantes, the only way we’re going slip the chains of present usage and wastage is if the price of energy – and the cost of wasting it – goes up. Land use and urban planning will follow, not lead, this curve. So their ploy might be doubly-ingenious, and may be we protest too much by rejecting it out of hand. Look at the arc of the health care bill; can the lies permeate and end up producing a stronger bill?

Don’t Just Do Something… Sit There

We’ve touched on this idea before – not the transposed smart-alecky version in the title, but the idea that someone somewhere is doing something about climate change. And because they are, everything will be cool (sorry). You might be doing something yourself – you might have biked to work today, or bought a diesel SUV that gets better mileage, switched out your soft white 75s for CFLs… whatever is, we’re all doing some of these things, which means we’re all doing something, in our way. Which come to think of it, is our way. More on that in a minute.

When it comes to government-level actions to tax carbon or enact a cap-and-trade regime, things are also moving – that is, people are doing things. You have the Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the house in June. And the senate version, leaked yesterday and released today, uses healthy doses of legislative lingo (I won’t say gibberish) to show boldness at reducing emissions while obscuring the polluting that will be allowed and the billions of dollars in emissions permitting that will be given away… ahem. This is the game, and one reason, among many, that you cannot merely be sanguine about the fact that someone in Washington (our capital) is doing something. There are many issues, among them – what is cap-and-trade? How is it different from a carbon tax?

Grist has a good interview with James Hansen of NASA, discussing the merits of these bills, what’s at stake and, reading between the lines, why we all need to understand the two questions above in order to hold solid opinions on whether someone is actually doing anything. Grist/Hansen:

One of the places most recently where you’ve been rather blunt is on the proposed Waxman-Markey climate bill. How would you summarize the problems that you see?

You can summarize the problem and prove that the bill is inadequate in a very simple way. You just look at the geophysical constraints on the problem and you look at how much carbon there is in oil, gas, and coal. And you see that the oil and gas is enough to get us into a dangerous zone for atmospheric carbon dioxide but not so far that we couldn’t solve the problem. But if you add coal and put that carbon in the atmosphere, then there is no practical way to solve the problem. So you just have to look at the proposed policy and see if it allows coal to continue to be used and emit the CO2 in the atmosphere.

You’ve got to cut off the coal source. Not only does [Waxman-Markey] assure that we will continue to run these coal plants that we have but it actually gives approval for additional coal plants. That simple test tells us that this bill is not adequate.

The basic point—the fundamental problem—is that because of government policies, fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. They are not made to pay for the damages they do to human health and the environment. As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, they are going to be used. That’s why I say you have to address the fundamental problem and that is put a rising price on carbon emissions.

You’ve been an advocate for a carbon tax instead of cap-and-trade. Why do you think a carbon tax is not getting much traction?

It’s partly because of the poor choice of words. I have a new description and that is “deposit and return.” Either a carbon cap or a carbon tax affects the price of energy and so they’re qualitatively not different. And so it’s kind of a mistake to call one a “tax and dividend,” and the other a “cap,” as if the cap does not increase the price of energy. If it doesn’t increase the price of energy, then it’s not going to be effective.

We have to begin to move to the sources of energy beyond fossil fuels. And the way you do that in a way that is economically sensible and beneficial is to do it gradually but continually. The public and the business community need to understand that the price of carbon will continue to rise in the future, and then we would begin to move more rapidly to the post-fossil fuel era.

So would it be fair to characterize the Waxman-Markey bill as business-as-usual, or is it even worse than business-as-usual?

Well, it’s a small probation of business-as-usual. It’s worse, in my opinion, than almost no policy because it does lock in, it does give approval for, some new coal-fired power. It puts a ceiling on the reductions that will occur. If you put a price on carbon emissions so that the competitors, the energy efficiency and the carbon-free energy sources, can begin to have the competitive advantage, then once you reach a certain point, things will move very rapidly and we will begin to leave the coal in the ground.

That’s what the coal companies are afraid of and they have been enormously effective in their impact on the politics, even though the truth is it’s not that big an industry and the total number of employees is not that large. But they are very powerful in terms of the number of senators and representatives they are able to influence, and apparently even the administration. It doesn’t make sense from an overall national perspective to give them such tremendous political clout. It is not in the best interest of the nation or the public.

We can move to simplified formulations to create helpful guides about the issue: if (measure x) does not increase the price of energy, it’s not going to be effective. Simple, understandable and clear – but we have to use them as starting places from which to move forward, likely toward measures that will require more of us and, just as likely, produce greater benefits that just being carbon negative or whatever. Quality of life stuff, like this new app I just found out about for taking in meaningful information on all sorts of subjects. It’s called sitting under a tree reading.

So don’t just do something…

Open Up the Till

And give me the change you said would do me good.

Picking up on a trend that came up last week, another energy company decides the Chamber is just not the disco floor it once was:

Exelon, one of the country’s largest utilities, said Monday that it would quit the United States Chamber of Commerce because of that group’s stance on climate change. It was the latest in a string of companies to do so, perhaps a harbinger of how intense the fight over global warming legislation could become.

“The carbon-based free lunch is over,” said John W. Rowe, Exelon’s chief executive. “Breakthroughs on climate change and improving our society’s energy efficiency are within reach.”

En garde, Monsieur Rowe; them’s librul fightin’ words if ever there was any. What might have starched these corporate britches?

What appears to have touched off the utilities’ withdrawals from the chamber was a recent article in The Los Angeles Times that cited chamber officials who called for a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” about the science of climate change. The Scopes trial was a clash of creationists and evolutionists in the 1920s.

Well, that would do it. One thing Leading Companies of Today™ cannot countenance is looking like yahoos – and I don’t mean a second rate search engine. Roy wrote recently about a new book on the Republican Party’s embrace/implosion at the hands of fundamentalist Christians, and this can be thought of along similar lines. What’s a healthy dose of the crazy, and how long can you ride it? The advantage gained to a political party, or a group of companies, by riding herd on the rabid willingness of zealots to say and do anything in pursuit of shared ideological goals can be measured in months. [This especially true when the shared goals are orthogonal – that is, mine aren’t yours and yours aren’t mine but they intersect in a way that we look like friends… even though I know you are crazy.] Corporations, far more nervous than politicians, know this, enter into such pacts far more cautiously and are quick to flee as the dial gets turned up. While it may have appeared that the GOP had secured the future of the country just a few short years ago, what they had actually secured was the limits of very finite, though quite enthusiastic, support. Politically, it was crazy from the go.

It’s not as though coporations are or should be considered paragons of ecological virtue. They just don’t want to look like idiots in a way that costs them money. And that, my friends, is what we call a teachable moment.

Being Cool about Warming

The whole idea that some morning arrives when everyone sees the light on climate change is all very… hopeful, especially as we harbor so much know-nothingness in our midst, and ring it with the implicit honor of supporting various points of view when it should rather be ridiculed into the obscurity it more properly deserves. When Inhofe goes to Copenhagen and makes a complete jerk out of himself, will that be the last straw? Will his fellow countrymen (you know, us/them) finally have seen enough of such antics? The question is almost self-refuting. Here’s Krugman today:

But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.

Nor is it just a matter of vested interests. It’s also a matter of vested ideas. For three decades the dominant political ideology in America has extolled private enterprise and denigrated government, but climate change is a problem that can only be addressed through government action. And rather than concede the limits of their philosophy, many on the right have chosen to deny that the problem exists.

It’s a pity that we can’t just drift back into politics on this, and rely on the responsible parties within government to act sensibly, with an eye toward the future. But to do so is to redirect oneself toward the conundrum, to see this is actually where a great amount of the stupidity, cupidity and brazenness is coming from. Our politics allows this to be just another right/left food fight, and so there’s little to avail there – and a great number of Amur’cans do refuse to support anything endorsed by Al Gore. That’s just our dumbness coming through. We’ll have to wait until it shows up on our one actual and true radar – we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it-on-TV, in the cool, detached aura of advertising. Unless or until global warming becomes a pitch device for corporate advertising, the one true and knowing entity in our culture remains neutral on the subject. As long as that persists, we can be sure there’s no need to make a decision.

But here’s the thing: what if the big multi-nationals don’t really have our best, long term interests at heart? Is there any history of that? When will they let us know that climate change is real? What is the window of remove, of detachment, on an existential question?

Say it with me: savvy enough to break through the idiocy.

When Re-Assessments Collide

As the well-documented nuttiness of climate change denialism spirals towards the outward bounds of making any sense whatsoever, Pacific Gas & Electric (of Erin Brochovich fame) decides even it has had enough and will not sign on to the craziness otherwise endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

In a letter to the Chamber, PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Peter Darbee wrote:

We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.

PG& E’s communications director attributed the pullout not just to craziness on the part of the chamber but also to the fact that other companies had recently made similar decisions.

In the past several weeks, two high-profile companies – Duke Energy and Alstom – publicly gave up their membership in the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy in protest over its opposition to federal climate change legislation.

Other companies that similarly favor climate change legislation faced uncomfortable questions this summer over their memberships in similar groups that have mounted aggressive campaigns to defeat pending climate bills.

So, something resembling a kind of consensus appears to be building among a group of American energy companies, if not a larger plurality of Americans and American businesses who are at least beginning to not pretend to not see the light. Alas, this does not include the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has announced to National Review that he will be personally leading a “truth squad” to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, where he will make it clear to international leaders not to believe that the United States will pass legislation to deal with the issue.

“Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate,” said Inhofe. “Some people, like Senator Barbara Boxer, will tell the conference, with Waxman-Markey having passed in the House, that they can anticipate that some kind of bill will pass EPW.”

The extent to which reality has not penetrated our House of Lords would be unremarkable were it not for the solid case it is making for its obsolescence, to which we should listen and copiously note. Really, the inordinate and out of proportion voting power senators have, unless you are one, resembles nothing more than perceived nineteenth-century robber baron impact on killing ‘savages’, crushing strikes and building railroads wherever their interests took them. That senators from North Dakota and California or New York have equal say on matters that affect tens of millions of people in the latter vs. hundreds of thousands in the former is just what it sounds like: an anachronism. But one that is marching backward on practically every issue of the day. It brings into question the whole bi-cameral nature of our legislative branch – it was conceived in a vastly different time and functions poorly in our present one. Saying that doesn’t seem nearly as outrageous as Inhofe going to Copenhagen to shriek nonsense about March snow storms in Oklahoma.

Climate Week

As though, with all of this rain, we hadn’t noticed. The local news shots of flooded interstate corridors are beginning to resemble dystopian feature films about impending climate catastrophe. And even those are going meta, with narratives set in the future where an activist looks at footage from this decade and laments our diddling. Hmmm…. we could be watching the same footage.

In New York this week, leaders of the world’s nations gather to re-outline the tough choices they don’t want to make, in foolhardy flank maneuver to defend future economic growth from the ravages of reduced carbon emissions(!). Sad, but one viable solution has been rolled out:

Selling the Hot Idea

Speaking of debris fields, Stephen Benen at WM flags an article that is brimming with all kinds of cosmic debris. The piece is ostensibly about how the current political climate is muting what enthusiasm there is for legislation to combat climate change. But it’s actually a description of the false choice between the environment and economic development which many people sincerely believe they are grappling with. For those about to choose, we… tell you to hold on a minute.

I’ll just pick out a couple of things form the article, by Jennifer Robison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal who uses data from a recent Gallup poll to get right to the point.

Recent surveys show Americans cooling to global warming, and they’re even less keen on environmental policies they believe might raise power bills or imperil jobs.

What’s more, fewer Americans believe the effects of global warming have started to occur: 53 percent see signs of a hotter planet, down from 61 percent in 2008. Global warming placed last among eight environmental concerns Gallup asked respondents to rank, with water pollution landing the top spot.

Another recent Gallup study found that, for the first time in 25 years of polling, more Americans care about economic growth than the environment.

And Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think-tank, pointed to a study from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association that showed 58 percent of respondents were unwilling to pay more than they currently pay for electricity to combat climate change.

Emphasis mine. Is that a choice? “Hmm… this is what I’ll pay for my light bill and not a penny more!” Is that how it works? Really? The ellipses are used not to cherry pick – feel free to read the whole thing. It’s a decent picture of what people have been led to believe are the underlying conditions of both climate catastrophe and economic development. She’s right in that the way global warming has been portrayed is partly to blame. Just not in the way she says.

With so many surveys revealing that Americans have little appetite for environmental policies that they think could stall economic growth or pinch consumers’ budgets, policymakers still have some selling to do, observers say.

What are they supposed to sell? That, short of new, highly exotic schemes that, not unlike the rear-view mirror, may appear more insane than they actually are, economic growth as we’ve known it is over? That should go over well. But the point is that these two have not been sufficiently connected. It’s another contradiction: despite the kinds of big expensive movies we make and support – we’re actually afraid of scaring people. Who woulda thunk it? This is not even touching on the degree to which people who sow skepticism of a warming planet turn around tout that very skepticism as one reason to do nothing. Though that phenomenon is responsible for this:

“I think there’s a huge amount of skepticism among the public. They’ve heard all these claims, and now they’ve been informed that there isn’t any recent warming,” Ebell said. “The public, without having a lot of information about it, is pretty astute. I think the alarmists are having a hard time making the case for global warming simply because reality is against them and the public has figured it out.”

Again, emphasis mine. That’s a non-sequitur, first of all. But I would choose the terms ‘reality’ and ‘hard time’ as ripe for a kind of redefinition along the lines of what our economic development has been all about and what it would take for it continue in any meaningful way. Even outside of concern for rising oceans, the connection between our rate of resource burn to our ability to grow and grow is non-sensical and we should be striving to transition away from it for that reason alone. Books will be written about this phenomenon and the brick wall awaiting us. It’s not wishful thinking or ‘fatalism as marketing’ that will determine whether we pass or fail on this front, but the thing people fear most – smarts.

With apologies to Mrs. Simmel and the Piranha Brothers – more heads stuffed with Cartesian dualism, please.

Intrinsic Angular Momentum

IAM, or spin, in other words. If we could capture the power of the earth’s magnetic power on itself, what would we plug it into? The conundrum would be similar, if not perfectly analogous, to attempting the transformation of hype into literal energy. There is something blocking the association – a physical law or two, sure, but also an imaginary plane of separation dividing these possibilities.

And I’m not talking here just about Newtonian physics not working at the quantum dimension. After all, do we not admit that our abilities to entertain magical possibility are powerful? Sustainable, cheap green energy that does not displace our devotion to modern convenience, for example; or the elimination of a seemingly necessary level of waste, for another. Do these imply mutual exclusivity? And if they don’t, what’s the problem, then?

One aspect might be stopping some of what we’re doing as a form of doing something about a problem. Conservation has its naysayers, but alone or teamed with constructive counter steps, substantial benefits cannot be denied. The cessation in consuming fast food as means to healthier living, for example; we would want to continue eating but may well choose tastier options that do not require industrial-scale agriculture in order to exist. A better example might be deforestation – stopping it as a means to reducing carbon emissions. Here we have the opportunity for greater carbon sequestration via the presence of more carbon cycling mechanisms (trees), coupled with the reduction in ghg emissions themselves by actually cutting down and hauling away less trees. Double dip in each column, if you want. But it’s not a ‘something for nothing’ proposition. Not a magical bullet, as they say. Just an initiative

known as the Carbon Benefits Project, was launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Agroforestry Centre, along with a range of other key partners. The project is being funded by the Global Environment Facility.

Under the United Nation’s climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing economies for implementing clean and renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and geothermal power.

In December 2009, at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, nations may decide to also pay to tropically-forested countries for maintaining standing forests under a scheme known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

This is because up to 20 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions linked with climate change is coming from deforestation—more than from cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.

I’ll stipulate how dangerously close this line of thinking may be to not making art as a conceptual form of art making if it can also be noted for the record that not cutting down trees is a viable form of tree-having.

Popular Field Mechanics & Stream

I’d prefer to write about these ten new wind turbine designs many of which you could put on your house and one or two you might even be able to fit on your personal person, or not far from it. Power to the people.

But no. It seems that other developments warrant a speculative word or two. It may just be that the Republican/big Pharma/big coal/petro industry best hope for derailing both climate change legislation and major health care reform will be signing onto a special prosecutor for Bush-era war crimes and interrogation practices.

Now imagine that. Obviously an SP is something none of our oligarchical overlords would want, so it introduces a bit of a devil’s bargain. Because the above would seem to welcome the other legislation even less. Or would they? Will they say, “Go ahead and have your Cheney circus but leave our unsustainable profit streams alone? I wonder which it’s going to be. Is this the development of a bargaining chip for one side, or the other? As dastardly cynical as that sounds, what makes it any more inevitable than if we were able to spare the nation a divisive trip back into Cheney-tainted extradition and assassination practices with resounding bi-partisan support for a C02 cap/ universal healthcare double bank shot? Let’s let us make a deal.

Oh the joys of a unstable age.

Protecting Green, redux

While I was watching the USA-Brazil Electric Meltdown Boo-galoo II yesterday, I wrote a long and rambling post on the Waxman-Markey bill’s passage that I ultimately decided not to publish. For all the reasons 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer, trying to write about all the reasons other than a warming planet that we should limit carbon emissions is a bit of a fool’s errand, and an unnecessary one at that.

… But this transportation model has corrupted our most basic social arrangements by de-valuing actual community, an isolation enshrined by a complex communication system that leaves us poorly informed across a broad spectrum. With a wealth of information at our fingertips, we are unconcerned about where we’re going or what we’re about to do, and unsure about what happened yesterday, much less last week or five years ago. We have achieved an acute ability to wait until the last minute to do anything, which marks both our prowess and near-native anxiety.

We idle across unnecessary distances, sitting in traffic, hailing this voluntary expansion of sphere as progress even as we sacrifice depth of influence for mere distance of reach. Bold and innovative companies have brought us a succession of needless products demeaning the most basic tools as obsolete in favor of ever-greater complexity; this economy grooms us on its own pre-eminence, via the tenets of disposability, while weening us of any regard for unique settings or uses, moments or sensations in favor of collective experience. Activities that do not directly produce a financial benefit we have come to understand as non-performing. The reality that planetary preservation is an issue worth weaving into our advertising, spending habits, food, shelter and energy strategies, government policies, fashions and other cultural identifiers is a massive acknowledgment that undermines its own cause the wider its use and dissemination.

Is this model in jeopardy? Should it be?

Exhibit A for why I usually read instead of write on Sunday. Fortunately, Paul Krugman is/was having none of that and demonstratively points out that climate change is in fact more than reason enough to pass the bill:

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

That’s the crux right there – they don’t like the policy implications, so they choose not to believe in the problem! It’s the ultimate in convenience, sort of like the new Shimmer – if someone was courageous enough to just point out that being a dessert topping AND a floor polish are converging conspiracies of household indulgence.

Speaking of which, here is a group that deserves special recognition: Democratic reps from districts Obama won who voted against bill. Jim Costa and Pete Stark of California; John Barrow of Georgia; Bill Foster of Illinois; Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana; Michael Arcuri of New York; Larry Kissell of North Carolina; Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio; Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon; Ciro D. Rodriguez and Solomon P. Ortiz of Texas; Glenn Nye of Virginia.