As Mother Jones recently chronicled, the environment community is fractured on the House clean energy and climate protection bill, though the bigger pieces -- Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, League of Conservation Voters -- are squarely for it.
Al Gore last night in a open invitation conference call sought to rally activists to call Congress before Friday's House vote and demand passage. But with a fair amount of internal debate persisting about the merits of the bill, along with much of the progressive media infrastructure failing over the last several weeks to highlight the twists and turns of the legislative drama, many progressive citizen-activists have not been especially motivated to engage Congress on climate, if they were even aware that the time was ripe for engagement.
The latest flare-up within the progressive movement is unconfirmed speculation that environmental groups supporting the bill are resisting attempts to try to strengthen the bill on the House floor, for fear that such attempts would threaten the fragile coalition of green-state, coal-state, oil-state, and farm-state Dems needed to attain a majority.
Is this a helpful debate to have right now?
To answer that, first answer this question: do we need a stronger bill with fewer concessions to carbon-polluting industries?
Look at this way. Duke University professor Prasad Kasibhatla concluded that if the rest of world follows our lead after the House bill approach is implemented, we would keep carbon pollution below 450 parts per million. Some scientists say that's enough to avert a climate crisis, while some say we need to reach 350.
In other words, we don't know for sure, but a stronger bill would be the safer route.
So, how best to do that?
Anyone who has closely followed the legislative sausage being made knows the following:
1. Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey had to do Herculean wheelin'-and-dealin' with fossil-fuel lovin' Dems to painstakingly piece together this compromise.
2. They did it without having any grassroots intensity in support of a strong carbon cap to hold skittish congresspeople's feet to the fire. In fact, Waxman and Markey had to do these deals precisely because they had no grassroots political leverage.
Which means pursuing last-minute amendments is futile.
There is zero reason to believe that the coalition could hold if any changes were made to the bill at this point. (Or to be more direct, there is zero reason to believe any amendment that would strengthen the bill would pass in the first place.)
Berating the Big Green groups for being strategic realists is not a useful internal debate to have. Their political calculations are not why the bill required multiple compromises.
The missing ingredient throughout this process has always been grassroots intensity, which has been depressed thanks to the fractured environmental community and lack of attention from both traditional media and progressive media.
You want to set the stage to strengthen the bill? Add that ingredient. Call Congress. Call 877-9-REPOWER. Pass the bill with a burst of grassroots momentum.
Don't sit on your hands and let Waxman and Speaker Pelosi drag the bill over the finish line with a whimper. Send a message to the Senate, where the current bill will face an even rougher road. Let Congress know that voters are watching this vote, and will reward congresspeople who had the vision to combat global warming.
From a political perspective, the details of the compromise don't matter right now. It's simply a global warming bill. And congresspeople are listening to find out if their constituents want a global warming bill, don't want a global warming bill, or don't care one way or another.
The best thing to do right now, is to give Congress the right answer.
Cross-posted at OurFuture.org