Why It Might Actually be Good for the Planet that the US is For Sale

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The year 2010 provides lessons from two policy fights that climate hawks can learn from, and apply in the next battle. And fortunately for us, the news is encouraging for three reasons. 1. Money made the difference. 2. With Citizens United, the US democracy is now for sale. And 3. The clean tech sector is growing rapidly – at least internationally.

While the climate bill lost nationally (stopped short at the Senate), almost identical legislation in California passed 60-40 at the ballot box with No on Prop 23. For the first time, money made the difference – on the side of the Good Guys. The clincher was a huge influx of $31 million from California’s rapidly growing clean tech industry for No on Prop 23.

In the end, those of us fighting Prop 23 spent significantly more money than the fossil industry spent trying to stop California’s climate bill.

Initially, the climate zombies had the funding edge, as No on 23 Co-chair Tom Steyer admits. “The truth is that we started from behind,” he told the LA Times. “Then we got organized. We raised more. We had a momentum factor”.

Money enabled No on Prop 23 to send out 3.4 million pieces of mail, make 379,676 on-campus contacts with college students, muster 3,200 volunteers, who made 2.8 million phone calls to voters, and to operate a sophisticated computerized outreach program that identified and contacted 481,000 voters, and showered voters with 900,000 get-out-the vote phone calls and text messages in the last three days.

Public shaming by the rich helped too. The San Francisco philanthropist and Farallon Capital Management investment banker who manages $20 billion in investment funds said “Companies that might have given to the initiative thought it was too risky and didn’t want to look like jerks.”

In the end, even Bill Gates spent money to defeat Prop 23. We won.

By contrast, to defeat the climate bill nationally the fossil industry spent $175 million on stomping Waxman-Markey at the door of the Senate in 2009, and the next year, another $250 million. Climate zombies outspent climate hawks by at least 8 to 1. We lost.

However, there’s good news. Internationally, clean tech has already grown to a $10 billion industry, and is predicted to triple by 2020. We now have serious backup, that we didn’t have when we were first fighting the fossil industry to pass the Kyoto Accord. We lost, but Europe passed it, and has now become a clean tech powerhouse. China too. There is now a constituency for clean energy.

Now that the US is actually for sale, because the Citizens United decision encourages unlimited corporate funding of our “democracy” – it is time for our side to call for help from every international stakeholder in a carbon-constrained future.

All of us who worked on defeating Prop 23 need to enlarge our coalition internationally to get national climate legislation passed. We should start now working on another go at it for 2012, but this time we need to put together serious money for a focused effort, from every stakeholder from around the planet.

It is in the entire world’s interest that America finally get on board with clean energy, and lucky for us, the US is now a Plutocracy. Climate Hawks: Let’s Roll!

Image: Plane Stupid

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8 thoughts on “Why It Might Actually be Good for the Planet that the US is For Sale

  • nice call to action, Susan. Great points and hope we can build momentum and organized support around this issue in the next couple years.

    • Thanks, Zach. There’s hope!

  • You’re wrong that the Citizens United decision is a good thing. Capitalists will always be able to outspend and outbid democrats. A small battle was won. The war is lost. The capitalists and fascists have won.


  • Susan: There is some debate that you “good guys” may have missed. The premise is that the “bad guys” may have faked you out by backing ProP 23 with money but in the more sneaky sense backing Prop 26 in a firmer measure. Prop 26 may actually be more harmful to you “good guys” since any “new” fees will require a 2/3 majority in the state legislature, something doubtful to occur in any short term or long term sense. The “bad guys” may have actually won more with Prop 26 passing than had Prop 23 passed, it will interesting to see and you may want to put a magnifying glass on how things role out in terms of fees for the “bad guys”.

    • Prop 26 is pretty bad (allows polluters to keep dumping without funding future cleanup costs they cause – which will then have to be borne by general gov funds) but apparently won’t stop AB32 as those rules were set pre passage, in 2006. For other kinds of direct impact pollution though, Prop 26 was indeed a win for the bad guys.

      • So I guess you would have to admit, one win for the good guys and one win for the bad guys?? And I believe the premise on the win for the “bad guys” in Prop 26 is that it will be even more difficult to institute fees in the future. Some writeups I have seen even suggest (conspiracy here)that the “bad guys” real focus was not Prop 23 but indeed Prop 26 as a more powerful means to ensure their side of the business structure remains intact. Personally, I believe the “bad guys” can and could always live with AB32, it would have just been easier (and more profitable) for them had Prop 23 passed but the real unknown secret for them is indeed Prop 26.

        • Well, far more than one win for the bad guys. Koch Industries funded a whole new congress to its liking, didn’t it? And here’s a sampling of its current lawsuits against the EPA which shows why it wants continued freedom to pollute:
          from Wonk Room

  • @Joe

    Although I am not American, I think you are wrong when you believe that capitalists will be able to spend more.

    First of all, not all capitalists have vested interest in fossil fuels. Take powerhouse like Google who actively supports clean energy.

    Second, even in the fossil fuel industry, some are investing into the post-oil era (renewables). They are not yet ready so they spend on lobbying to keep the status quo. Whenever the first big fossil company finishes the development of its first viable renewable product, it will turn on the others. Then, their cartel collapses because the interest of the first company will be to destroy the others before they can effectively switch to renewables.

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