Policy & Politics

Published on May 11th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

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What Really Matters in Climate Policy

May 11th, 2010 by  

We environmentalists and progressives arguably do as much damage to our chance of getting good climate legislation that we want – as the most egregiously fossil-fueled Senators paid fortunes to filibuster it. The only difference is, in our case, it’s inadvertent. We pick on up trivialities and put our foot down.

There’s two reasons we can’t get behind good policy. They both point to massive media failure. They both derive from the fact that we have no clue.

1. We have not really delved into the nitty gritty of policy to understand why some policy works, and some doesn’t.

We environmentalists tend to get caught up on the relative trivialities like “pollution permit giveaways” or “off-shore drilling” while not putting our foot down on the essential sine qua non of climate policy – placing a “cap” that limits allowable greenhouse gas emissions and then ratcheting down that limit. Here is a great series that helps us shed a little light on that. This helps sort the essential from the trivial.

2. We have no idea how the US Senate actually operates so we have no idea of why we can’t simply pass strong climate legislation (and then get disillusioned and give up).

The other stumbling block for environmentalists trying to improve policy is real political ignorance of why the Senate can’t pass good legislation on climate. The media doesn’t make it clear why that is. People are seemingly unaware that we have selected 41 Republicans who prevent the passage of any and all climate and clean energy bills.

The oil and gas industry pays them to prevent it, and here is how they do it. It is very successful.

Before any vote, there has to be a vote to take a vote, which requires 60 votes to get past what is called “the cloture vote.” In past decades this was a simple routine vote. But now Republicans use this rule to prevent legislation coming to the floor for an up or down simple majority vote. This now slows the Senate to an unnatural crawl, as it has since Democrats recently got more than 50 in the Senate, beginning in 2007.  Because the government would grind to a halt if they spent weeks voting cloture on the same piece of legislation day after day, they can’t bring the same bill up for the same cloture vote every day to get the same results. As a result, the minority party is now able to dictate policy and prevent all legislation from happening.

The only exception: when the entire nation is loudly clamoring for  reform. On regulating Wall Street, Reid was able to keep dragging the same cloture vote out in front of the nation, over and over till the Republicans cracked. The corporate media had inadvertently allowed some signs from their astroturf Tea Partiers to register displeasure with Wall Street – along with all the more traditional targets of the corporate right like regulation of industry (socialism) and paying their share for shared infrastructure (taxes).

So why can’t Reid drag the Republican intransigence out in front of the nation on climate legislation? Obviously the corporate media won’t ever bus Tea Partiers in front of cameras demanding legislation to limit carbon pollution or to impose more stiff regulation on the fossil industry. They would not allow it on the airwaves.

But we too are not demanding the big policy. We get caught up in the little issues and argue about them. We don’t know why good policy is not being passed and so we blame the Democrats we sent there to pass it and get disillusioned and cynical. All politicians are the same, they are all sellouts, they have no guts, and so on.

So, on climate legislation, by contrast the message is muddled. We environmentalists are all over the place on what needs to be done and don’t understand why it isn’t done. The solution to that problem? Find out what to fight for and why.

We need to be one voice backing up the climate bill. Now is not the time to argue about this or that. Let’s not get bogged down in trivialities. We need to be clear on what needs to happen.  If we show support for the main issue in the (leaked) climate bill when it is published this week, then we have a chance of getting it passed.

Image: Flikr user Chuckumentary


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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • Until u get honest politicians in Washington, there will always Senators who will do pretty much what they want to do.

    Also, the lobbyists need to be eliminated. Big money and key players manipulate the whole operation and to think this can be controlled or changed?? Maybe wishful thinking.

    With current powers to be in Washington, their main ofjective is government control over the entire country. It is happening and we are all being used as pawns. LOL.

  • Right on, Susan. Think building coalition with businesses exposed to the risk of climate change would certainly help.

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