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This article originally provided by
June 22, 2006
Let's All Go to the Lobby
Do you know where your candidates stand on climate change?
By Ross Gelbspan
With growing numbers of scientists declaring that the global climate crisis is
approaching a point of no return, there is a huge and bewildering disconnect
between our physical world and our political environment. Our government's
response to the prospect of runaway climate impacts is one of paralysis.
The negligence of the Bush administration is understandable. The White House has
become the East Coast branch office of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy. The
fossil-fuel lobby is essentially writing the administration's climate and energy
policies. As a result, climate change has become the preeminent case study of
the contamination of our political system by money. This is not political
conservatism. This is corruption disguised as conservatism.
The case of Congress,
however, seems a bit different. The inaction of Congress in the face of a
civilization-shattering threat seems less like corruption and more like simple,
old-fashioned, bipartisan cowardice.
Several Republican senators and representatives are offering puny efforts to
address the climate crisis -- all of them lame given the urgency and magnitude
of the challenge. Congressional Democrats, given their widespread support for
the Iraq war and the War on Terror, should be using climate change as a key
issue to distinguish themselves from their Republican counterparts. But their
equally ineffective approaches testify to the failure of our political system to
effectively engage nature's challenge.
Even those congressional Democrats who acknowledge the threat seem petrified by
the prospect of any meaningful action. For starters, virtually all their
proposals center on market-based "cap and trade" mechanisms, which are dismally
inadequate in the face of the problem. We cannot trade our way to deep cuts in
our emissions. Carbon trading is most useful as a fine-tuning instrument -- to
help countries achieve the last 10 or 15 percent of their obligations. It is not
the workhorse vehicle to propel a 70 percent energy transition. We cannot
finesse nature with accounting tricks.
What is missing from all of their deliberations is the sense of desperation and
helplessness shared by all of us who are shaken by each new terrifying report
about our increasingly unstable climate.
One group is trying to shake Congress out of its lethargy. The Climate Crisis
Coalition is launching a drive called
to put the issue of global climate change squarely on the agenda of the November
elections. The goal: to get as many congressional incumbents and challengers as
possible to take a visible public position on the issue. The group is drawing on
the volunteer energy of the more than 40,000 people who have signed a web-based
People's Ratification of
the Kyoto Protocol.
Those volunteers will present candidates in a number of key districts with the
group's platform. The candidates, in turn, will be asked either to endorse that
platform or to put forth their own positions on the climate issue.
The group's three-part platform calls for:
As the positions of both incumbents and challengers
are collected, they will be posted on the
website so voters will know where candidates stand. This is, at best, a very
small step toward the very large goal of preserving a hospitable planet.
- The withdrawal of federal subsidies for coal, oil, and
natural-gas development -- as well as the withdrawal of some subsidies for
carbon-intensive agriculture -- and the establishment of subsidies to
jump-start a renewable-energy economy based on wind, solar, tidal power,
biomass, small-scale hydropower, and other sustainable energy and
- The ratification by Congress of the Kyoto Protocol and
the formulation of a post-Kyoto framework that would result in a rapid
worldwide transition away from fossil fuels to clean-energy technologies.
- The enactment, as a preliminary step, of the
of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act to begin reducing
It is understandable
that ExxonMobil, Peabody, and their allies -- both in and out of Washington --
are deploying immense resources to fight off a clean-energy transition. After
all, such a transition threatens the survival of their multibillion-dollar
It is much less understandable why our elected representatives are willing
allies in a process that will soon drag the rest of us straight to the bottom of
Ross Gelbspan, a board member of the Climate
Crisis Coalition, is the author of
Boiling Point and
The Heat Is On. He maintains the website