Lisa Hymas at Grist.org has provided an important first step in understanding some of the heat associated with efforts to craft a climate change mitigation bill with her post titled Gore vs. Hansen: Enviros take sides in debate over House climate bill. She lists a number of organizations that have long standing membership in the “Environmental Community” along with their position on the current version of the legislation. She posits that the “sides” are lining up in a general way under one of two leaders, Al Gore or James Hansen.
Al Gore has a Nobel Prize, an Oscar, and is a former Vice President. He is a member of a established political family who attended some of the “best” schools in the country. He is a very wealthy man who has leveraged his public persona as an idealistic leader who got a raw deal during his failed Presidential campaign into a very lucrative career as a public speaker, a venture capitalist, and a corporate board member. He owns an enormous house with a huge electric bill and lives an expansive lifestyle full of air travel in private jets and first class cabins. He buys emissions credits from one of the companies in which he has a financial stake. He has a lot of friends with a similar thirst for monetary rewards. The groups aligned with his point of view tend to be some of the largest and best endowed groups in the environmental community.
Joe Romm thinks the bill earns a passing grade and urges support. So does Dave Roberts. Here is Dave’s inaccurate summary of the political alignments:
After the draft proposal was released, the bill went into closed-door negotiations in the Energy & Commerce Committee, which is packed with legislators from carbon-intensive states. Republicans have, of course, decided on blanket opposition to any climate measures, so the negotiations were entirely between Dems from low-carbon (generally liberal, generally wealthy, service and white-collar) states and Dems from high-carbon (generally conservative, generally poor, coal and manufacturing) states. (The media has, for whatever reason, decided that the latter group deserves the appellation “moderates.”)
It is wrong on several levels:
- Wealthy, service and white collar states are only “low carbon” because they import their power and their finished, energy intensive products
- A number of Republicans have come out strongly for climate legislation
- There are a lot of classic liberals in the union halls, communities organizations and churches in “poor” states
- There are some very wealthy people in coal and manufacturing states
- A lot of the service income in “wealthy” states comes from financing coal, oil and natural gas based enterprises
James Hansen is a government scientist who has repeatedly risked the ire of his politically appointed leaders at NASA. As far as I can tell, he is a reasonably prosperous man who has earned a decent salary as he worked his way up the ranks in a large science based federal agency. Based on the longevity of his government service, I suspect that he has the expectation of a solid pension and dependable health care for the rest of his life, once he makes the decision to retire. He is also well respected and travels for a lot of speeches. Based on what I know about travel rules for government employees, I am pretty sure that he flies in coach and that he is under some fairly stringent rules on accepting outside compensation for those speeches. The groups aligned with him tend to be more scrappy and idealistic and have far less in the way of financial resources than those groups lined up with Al Gore.
Maybe I am simply a hopeless idealist, but put me on James Hansen’s team of underdogs. They seem to represent the people who talk most about making a real change away from fossil fuels, recognizing that science matters, and who do not want to reward the people who have polluted the most with the most financial incentives for making slight changes in their behavior.
I am aware that most of the groups that Lisa puts on Hansen’s team have strong anti-nuclear positions. I am fairly confident that the rank and file members have a good probability of accepting the scientific and technical advantages of fission once they recognize that they have been fed a line of bull from the fossil fuel establishment backed members of Gore’s team.
Please forgive me for a tortured analogy, but a cap and trade system that resembles the version being proposed today would have an effect similar to a law setting a declining cap on landed punches. It would give all husbands a one time payment for the blows they have landed in the past and establish a system that gives them additional payments for any avoided, but planned future blows. A loving husband who has never struck his wife would get nothing and the most offensive wife beaters would get rich if they simply reduced their domination inspired output by a few strikes per day. Eventually, the world might become a friendlier place with fewer injured wives, but it would take a very long time. Many women would experience a lifetime of pain while the punch caps gradually fall towards zero.
I much prefer Hansen’s proposed tax and dividend plan. Every single punch would be penalized and the people who never punch, including the formerly beaten, would get paid from the fees on those who do. The more you punch, the more you pay.
With Hansen’s plan, the rewards favor those who already do the least amount of damage to our common atmosphere, not those whose damage is already so great that simply slowing them down can result in a statistically significant reduction in the output of damaging emissions to the environment. It also provides incentives that will make it possible for the behaviors and technologies that cause the least amount of damage to break the hold on power and influence that can be gathered by those who operate without caring who they are hurting as long as they get what they want.