Thursday, May 24, 2012

Political Climate Crisis

The reality is undeniable.  According to the World Meteorological Organization of the UN, last decade (2001-2010) was the warmest globally since records began in 1850.  Nine of the 10 past years are among the 10 warmest all-time.  Global land and sea surface temperatures are 0.46 C above the longterm average. That 10 year period was "marked by extreme levels of rain or snowfall, leading to significant flooding on all continents, while droughts affected parts of East Africa and North America."

All of this was predicted by the models based on global heating.  The science based on research of thousands of years of physical evidence (ice cores, etc.), and the basic physics of what happens when greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they all agree. 

But there are still those who deny the undeniable.  Why?  Apart from other explanations (including psychological factors explored here in the "climate inside" series) that he doesn't contradict, Chris Mooney offers his perceptions.

First, he suggests that denial is shrinking--and getting more specific.  "The denial of global warming is no longer mainstream within corporate America or the fossil fuel industry, then—and that can only be considered a major achievement. And yet at the same time, it is stronger than ever among Tea Partiers and the Republican Party itself. And this fact—that these traditional industry allies have themselves diverged with industry on the matter—surely demonstrates that this is not really a live scientific issue any longer. It is a political issue."

But why?  Corporatist GOPers, not hard to figure out.  But the Rabid Religious Right?  The Tea Partisans? Mooney's answer:   "To understand how to ultimately defeat climate denial, you first have to understand what it is: motivated reasoning on behalf of individualist values. What this means is that libertarian types—often white and malewho have decided that the climate issue is something that environmentalists concocted to impose global socialism will come up with any reason to attack the science that their minds can create. And the human mind can create an awful lot of reasons. Especially among the intelligent."

This is at least a rationale that is of a piece with a lot of other related rhetoric.  It relates to a suspicion of anything big, government or corporations.  And the most important part of it is the suspicion that the cost of efforts to end greenhouse gas pollution will fall on the individual, not corporations or government.  It will be individuals (and families) who will have to do without, and pay more for getting less.

This is an analysis that absolutely has to be kept in mind in crafting specific solutions. There is no doubt that the deck is stacked against the 99%, and it is stacked at least partly by corporate power through government.  That it gets confused and conflated with socialism, totalitarian world government, oppression of white people, etc. does not completely invalidate this perception.

Mooney goes on to suggest that the way the Rabid Right denialism will lose its political potency is when something like Cap & Trade becomes a reality, becomes the new normal.  He suggests that even as early as this summer, if it is as hot and ripped with violent weather as previous months suggest it might be, the political will to do so may start coming together.

We'll see about summer and how it plays into this Big and possibly Fatal Choice election, but I have my doubts about his analysis of how denialism will dwindle.  I think immediately of the Affordable Care Act, and how denialism of a different kind, and virulent political opposition, has not abated much since it was passed, and has begun to become part of the new normal.

As big a political factor as denialism is in the United States, it is not the only factor in the failure to confront the Climate Crisis.  This detailed report based on tapes made in meetings of world leaders during the Copenhagen climate summit provides a pretty clear picture of the geopolitical barriers:  besides the U.S. political lacunae, there is the desire of developing countries (China and India especially) to keep on developing unfettered by carbon limits (at least until they've cornered markets on green technologies.)  Only Europe had the political will to set limits, and who knows if even European nations would be so unified today. 

Update: On precisely this topic, nations again fail to agree on action, with pretty much the same dynamic.

Another bit of perspective is gained by Joshua Green, who points out that without the GOPers rampant misuse of the filibuster over the past three plus years, we would be living in a different America, the first part of which is especially relevant to this theme: "Had the filibuster not applied, the United States would have a market-based system to control carbon emissions, which would limit the damage from global warming, vitalize the clean technology sector, and challenge other large polluters like China and India to do the same. The new health care law would have a public option. Children of undocumented immigrants who served two years in the military or went to college could become US citizens. Women paid less than their male colleagues because of their gender would have broader legal recourse against their employers. Billionaires would not be able to manipulate the political system from behind a veil of anonymity. 

Dozens of vacant judgeships would have been filled. The Federal Reserve would have operated with a full slate of governors, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond. Elizabeth Warren would be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not a candidate for the Senate. And Mitt Romney would be paying a higher tax rate than the 13.9 percent he shelled out in 2010, since a provision to end the carried-interest tax break wouldn’t have died in the Senate. (By my math, that filibuster saved Romney $1,480,000 in 2010 alone, the difference between the 15 percent he paid on $7.4 million earned in carried interest and the top marginal rate of 35 percent.)"

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