08/06/2007 07:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

YearlyKos: My Message to the Netroots

I led a panel on global warming politics at Yearly Kos (more about that here -- it was also live-blogged here). I was excited for the opportunity, since in my experience the netroots are way behind the dread MSM and even the political class on the subject of global warming.

My remarks on the panel were intended to engage with bloggers who want to enter this debate, offering a few key points that need reinforcement from the left. I expand on them below.

1. Global warming takes primacy over energy independence. It's not a mystery why politicians squish the subject of climate change in with energy security. For Republicans, it's a way to change the subject. For Democrats, it's a way to look tough and bolster security cred.

But while politics may lean one way, policy leans another. It's possible to tackle energy independence -- or at least look like you're tackling it -- without doing a thing for global warming. (See: liquid coal, ethanol, "price gouging" legislation, etc.)

In contrast, a smart program to tackle global warming also achieves energy security.

So politicians need to be pressured to address global warming squarely and forthrightly, as its own issue, not as some addendum to the GWOT.

2. Coal is the enemy of the human race. (Maybe you've heard?) There's a grand narrative on the left about Big Oil and its many sins, real and imagined. To hear the netroots tell it, Big Oil got us into a war, jacked up our gas prices, kept us in thrall to authoritarian regimes, and killed our pony.

Putting aside the validity of any of these claims, I would like to see the netroots equally exercised about Big Coal. As James Hansen keeps saying, coal is the crucial inflection point in our battle against global warming. Our success or failure will be determined by coal's fate.

Part of the problem, though, is that coal has taken on a something of a mythical place in the American psyche -- as Duncan Black put it to me this weekend, coal miners are like farmers. Coal is Americana.

So let's remind ourselves that -- struggling to keep this short -- Big Coal is evil. It has a long history of lying, breaking the law, killing its workers, manipulating the political process, and oh yeah, fouling up the climate. The number of people it employs has been steadily declining for years, yet it remains one of the most pampered, subsidized industries in the U.S. Part of this is simply because it hasn't received the same level of public opprobrium as oil.

It's time for concerted pushback against coal, which is setting itself up to use global warming as an excuse to get more subsidies. The gall.

3. Energy barriers are political, not technological. It's true that we can look forward to many exciting technological breakthroughs in the area of clean energy in coming years. But make no mistake: we have the technology today to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It's simply not true that there are "no alternatives" to remaining yoked to the fossil ball and chain. Clean energy is not some welfare project we're pushing for fuzzy moral reasons. It is the superior alternative, blocked by the disproportionate power of dinosaur industries on the political process.

What's needed is market reform (removing subsidies and tax breaks, preferably from all energy sources), regulatory reform (primarily but not solely in the electrical utility sector), and legislative reform (a price on carbon). If those reforms were in place -- if we had something approximating a level playing field in the energy world -- clean energy would already be winning.

4. The U.S. must go first. Navin Nayak told me that Mitt Romney's been using this line: "It's not called America warming, it's called global warming." The idea is that the U.S. can't/shouldn't institute a mandatory cap on GHG emissions unless and until China and India do. Can't be at a "competitive disadvantage" and all.

That is, to put it as bluntly as possible, moral cretinism. The developed countries, particularly the U.S., spent most of humanity's carbon budget, and benefited from it in the form of enormous economies and prosperous citizenries. To pretend that China and India, where billions of people remain in miserable poverty, are at the same starting line in this game is absurd.

We have a moral, political, and economic responsibility to clean up our own house, and to lend a financial hand to China and India as they struggle to shift to a sustainable path.


So there you have it. If any of you folks out there in the fabled netroots are reading this, and want to engage in the public debate over global warming, please help "propagate these memes" -- only don't call them that. I hate that word.