Monday, March 2, 2009

The Environmental Divide

When times are tough, as they are now, there often emerges an even sharper contrast of visions.  In some ways, the extremists for any cause thrive in the crisis times when they can use the "urgency" of the underlying crisis as reason to stop compromising and give in to the feel-good approach of self-righteous ideological grandstanding.  The justification becomes that "times are too urgent" for half measures.  

Let's think about this.  If times are so bad, doesn't it make more sense to work WITH other people?  Don't we need pragmatism now more than ever?  When you consider that extreme positions rarely if ever accomplish anything (other than fundraising and self-aggrandizement), you realize that when times are tough economically, that's when you need swift action . . . forward progress!  America's government is not designed for this - it is designed to require compromise and steady, thought-through action that has the agreement of a wide cross section of our very diverse country.  So in the end, it is pragmatism, bridge-building and finally, shared understanding that moves large issues forward in a sustainable way.

Keep all of this in mind as you read the article below from the Economist.
There is an interesting divide emerging within environmentalists with some using the urgent needs of the planet as an excuse to be as uncompromising and ideological as they want.  I feel the need to keep asking these folks:  "What actual good has your position brought?"  If you oppose new transition lines being built for a project that will increase renewable energy . . . how are you helping the overall environment?  

I've long been frustrated that there seems to be NO ability or willingness in the majority of the environmental community to prioritize!!  There are ALWAYS trade-offs -- and there are even for "good" energy projects.  The path of opposing everything leads us to actually support the dirtiest options -- SINCE THEY ARE THE ONES THAT ALREADY EXIST!  Enviros are forever engaging in intellectual puzzles that try to assess all the impacts of any action.  There is certainly a place for understanding impacts to the best of our ability -- but there is also a place for recognizing that if you wait until the "perfect" energy source is ready to be commercialized, you are in fact prolonging the life of the dirtier option because you are unwilling to take a more modest step forward.

I hope that the public and those that fund environmental organizations begin to see the real trade-offs from extremist rhetoric on both sides.  

I know I'm often hard on the environmentalists for their refusal to be pragmatic -- but let us also recognize that these groups would have far less power in our society if there had been more good-faith efforts from industry to address environmental problems head on.  So - there is plenty of blame to go around.

Feb 12, 2009

Tree-huggers v nerds
Feb 12th 2009 | LOS ANGELES 
From The Economist print edition

As the planet heats up, so do disputes between environmentalists

LAST December California approved a power line between San Diego and the Imperial Valley—a spot blessed with sun, wind and geothermal energy resources. The Sunrise Powerlink would twist around a state park, an Indian reservation and much of a forest (see map). Its builders would be banned from harming burrowing owls or rattlesnakes. It is just the sort of green infrastructure project that might be expected to delight environmentalists. Their response? An appeal and a petition to the state Supreme Court.

“Environmentalists have never been a well-mannered lot”, says Terry Tamminen, who has advised Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate change. But they seem to be becoming more ornery. A growing fear that the environment is on the brink of collapse is making many greens less willing to compromise, even with each other. And George Bush’s departure from the White House has removed a common adversary.

The fiercest disputes are over electricity transmission. Many environmentalists, including Mr Schwarzenegger, argue that more power lines must be built to connect cities with potential sources of renewable energy. The governor strongly supports the Sunrise Powerlink project. The Sierra Club opposes it, along with another line that would run east from Los Angeles. Together with the Centre for Biological Diversity, the organisation is holding out for a guarantee that the line will be used to transmit electricity solely from renewable sources. Environmental groups in Nevada and the Midwest have issued similar ultimatums.

To an extent this is a dispute between pragmatism and idealism. Politicians like Mr Schwarzenegger tend to believe that energy projects should be judged on whether they improve on current practice. Activists, by contrast, prefer to measure them against an environmental ideal. “A little bit better than the status quo isn’t good enough,” explains Bill Magavern, the Sierra Club’s California director. He wants power to be generated close to those who will use it, and envisages a rash of solar roofs in San Diego.

A more profound difference has to do with how the problem is diagnosed. Although no big environmental group is unconcerned with global warming, they view the threat in different ways. The big divide is between those who fret about measurable changes in greenhouse-gas emissions and those who worry more about harm to natural habitats, whether caused by global warming or anything else. The first group—call them the environmental nerds—includes people like Al Gore and Mr Schwarzenegger. The second group—call them the tree-huggers—includes the Sierra Club, the Centre for Biological Diversity and other established conservation groups.

The dispute is likely to intensify in the next few months as Washington weighs in. This week Congress reached a deal on a stimulus plan that encourages the construction of yet more power lines. Barack Obama wants to create green jobs, but he needs to create jobs above all, and quickly. Environmentalists, who know how to hold up big projects better than anybody, will not be bounced so easily. A shame: after all, the greens are winning.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Germans Exporting Energy Efficiency - We Should Too!

Awhile back I participated in a farmer-to-farmer exchange between the U.S. and Germany looking at renewable energy and climate-friendly agricultural practices that might count as offsets to a mandatory climate cap-trade system some day.

While in Germany, I was extremely impressed with the amount of bio-gas production they had going on.  The government guaranteed a 22 cent/kilowatt price for bio-gas created energy (over double the usual price for electricity) and as a result, almost every farm of any size has added a bio-gas production facility.  

So - from time to time, I check in on what's going on in the German renewable energy sector -- as they seem to be very innovative and focused on solving the problems of promoting more low-carbon energy -- German engineering indeed!

Today I saw a press release from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.  Their latest offering is a database that allows buyers to find energy-efficient technology made in Germany.  This resource says so many things - not only is Germany largely engaged in low-carbon energy technology, but they are major exporters of this technology -- and they are promoting it in a very good way.  

Now imagine how much the U.S. could do on this front - with all its resources . . . and what that new economic activity could do for our struggling economy.  Yes, I realize that America has far more fossil resources to use, and thus, it makes sense that the U.S. would develop that resource.  But, its often said these days that "We just don't make anything here anymore."  Well, think of energy efficiency and low carbon/renewable energy as "a whole lot of stuff" we could make very well -- and that much of the world increasingly wants to buy!  

Even more important from my perspective -- is how much MORE is actually done to solve energy problems through engineering and science than through rhetoric and partisanship. 

Below is the press release so you can read all about it.  And, you can check out the database by clicking here.


Database of German providers of energy-efficient products and services now online free of charge: The Energy Efficiency Export Initiative launches its international debut

Starting today, potential business partners from around the world can search online for German providers of energy-efficient products and services, thanks to the English-language website of the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative ( In order to be included in the database, German companies can register themselves free of charge at The process takes just a few minutes. After registering, German companies can then create a company profile which enables them to be identified in online searches by interested users from around the globe. In the few weeks since the German-language version of the website went into operation, more than 350 companies have registered with the Initiative. And the numbers keep going up.

The database covers a comprehensive spectrum of products and services that range from "architects" to "ventilation systems". This makes it possible for entrepreneurs, policymakers and other interested parties from around the world to gain quick access to potential business partners in Germany, who are grouped together under a single international label: "Energy Efficiency - Made in Germany". The database also provides information on a dynamic network of partners in specific target countries. All of these features make the website a one-stop-shop and central point of contact for anyone who is looking for German suppliers and business partners in the field of energy efficiency. And German companies benefit as well: the website gives them a direct platform for making their products and services known to potential international customers, providing them with a "gateway to the world" that enables them to build contacts to new export markets both quickly and easily.

The newly launched English-language website is targeted toward companies and opinion leaders in export markets that are of key importance for Germany's energy efficiency industry. It is a crucial addition to the extensive German-language website of the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative, which provides numerous services to support the export activities of German companies.

Federal Minister of Economics and Technology Michael Glos stated: "This new online database covers the entire spectrum of energy efficiency and will help match international stakeholders with the right contact persons at qualified and knowledgeable German companies that provide technology and services. At the same time, we are providing the German energy efficiency industry with a web-based platform for expanding their export business. We want the label 'Energy Efficiency - Made in Germany' to become internationally recognised as a mark of first-rate quality."

Since the 2007, the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative - which is run by the Federal Government under the lead responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology - has been supporting the export activities of German firms in the field of energy efficiency. The Initiative provides support above all to small and medium-sized enterprises that offer energy-efficient products and services.

For further information, please contact the Energy Efficiency Export Initiative (full contact information is available at

Friday, January 16, 2009

Congress' Climate Plan: Partisan or Passable?

A new Congress has been seated in the U.S. and soon, a new President will be sworn in.  Now is the time when legislative plans are being made for the year and the new President's priorities either clash or harmonize with the Congress.

As I have discussed here before, there is a real danger that the new leaders of the climate issue in the Congress will move to the left on the climate issue (less flexibility in allowing regulated entities to meet their cap and a very limited or no offsets option).  Currently, most Republicans remain absent from the climate debate - and the few that are engaged are trying to stand in front of a political train that will merely run them down.  Therefore, it will fall to a select group of conservative or "blue dog" Democrats and some moderate Republicans to ensure that the climate legislation that moves forward is workable and, dare I say it, SUSTAINABLE in this difficult economy.

Below is a good overview article laying out the Congressional agendas for the climate issue. 

Climate Change - Environment and Energy Daily
Jan. 16, 2009
Waxman begins four-month march to move emissions bill
Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter

Let the vote-counting begin.
Minutes into his first hearing yesterday as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) boldly pledged to move a comprehensive climate change bill through the panel by Memorial Day. But the road to the House floor isn't that simple.

Democrats hold a 36-23 edge on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That is a big margin for Waxman to work with as he takes the lead in writing a cap-and-trade climate bill over the next four months. But lawmakers from both parties warn that there are no guarantees Waxman will be able to satisfy any Republicans, let alone some of his own Democrats who represent districts with heavy industrial bases.

"That's the question: Are you going to insert the word 'Ohio?' Are you going to insert the word 'Pennsylvania?'" asked Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the GOP's former top House vote counter. "What are you going to put in this that allows people in states that are particularly dependent on coal, either as a producer or user of coal, to move forward?"

Waxman, an 18-term congressman, did not give specifics on the climate bill he has in mind during yesterday's hearing on global warming, the first since he took over late last year as the new chairman.

But Waxman did explain that he has a wider range of recommendations available to pull from, including previous versions of cap-and-trade legislation introduced by other Democrats and the U.S. Climate Action Partnership blueprintreleased yesterday that calls for a reduction of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.

"A consensus is developing that our nation needs climate legislation," Waxman said. "Our job is to transform this consensus into effective legislation. The legislation must be based on the science and meet the very serious threats we face."

As he moves forward, Waxman can claim support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In a prepared statement, Pelosi called Waxman's Memorial Day schedule an "aggressive timetable for action to reduce global warming and our dependence on foreign oil. I share his sense of urgency and his belief that we cannot afford another year of delay."

Across Capitol Hill, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued her own statement saying she was "very pleased" with Waxman's plans. She pointed out that while she pushed a cap-and-trade bill through her committee in December 2007, the House took no action on global warming legislation over the last two years.

Looking ahead, Boxer promised to release "a set of principles for my new legislation in the coming weeks." And she said that Waxman's schedule, coupled with the U.S. CAP announcement, suggest "the writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is coming soon."

House and Senate Democratic leaders say they will be consulting closely with the Obama administration on its preferences for global warming legislation, a strategy repeated during confirmation hearings this week by EPA Administrator designee Lisa Jackson.

The Obama administration will likely release a series of legislative principles out of the Obama White House, as opposed to a detailed bill, according to an aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the newly created House Energy and Environment Subcommittee with primary jurisdiction on a global warming bill.

"Frankly, I think what we're going to get from this administration is what we got from the tail end of the Clinton administration and not the start of the Clinton administration," the Markey staffer said. "One of the great mistakes of the health care debate is they tried to write a 300-page bill. Congress doesn't take dictation very well."

'The fossil fuel Democrats'

Given the size of the Democratic majorities, Blunt predicted cap-and-trade advocates would find success when it comes to moving climate legislation, though it may mean making some concessions.

"If Barack Obama is pushing for it, and Nancy Pelosi is pushing for it, and Barbara Boxer is pushing for it and Henry Waxman is pushing for it, it probably happens," Blunt said. "But that doesn't mean it happens in the right way, or the right time frame."

Blunt also would not rule out Republicans voting in support of a Waxman-led climate bill. "It's too early to tell," he said.

Several Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they had already made up their mind they would be opposed to a cap-and-trade bill, including Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois.

Shimkus, a seven-term congressman from southern Illinois' coal country, sounded off during yesterday's hearing against the economic implications of a new carbon cap in the United States. And he predicted political fallout for Democrats from similar industry-heavy districts if they back Waxman's legislation.

"I'm going to hold the fossil fuel Democrats accountable," Shimkus said. "You better be prepared to defend your vote as global climate change legislation will destroy the fossil fuel industry."

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he did not buy the argument offered by U.S. CAP members that it would cost more to stave off the effects of climate change in future years if lawmakers do not move now to curb emissions with a cap-and-trade bill.

"You hear that in a lot of issues: A stitch in time saves nine," Gingrey said. "But right now, I don't believe we have a stitch left when we get through trying to save the economy and restore some of these 2.5 million jobs lost last year."

Warnings from Shimkus and Gingrey underscore the work Waxman has to do to win over Republicans. Meantime, some of the so-called fossil fuel Democrats who serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they planned to be active participants in the drafting of climate legislation.

"I want to be able to support a bill," said Rep. Baron Hill, a five-term lawmaker from southeastern Indiana. "But if coal is not addressed, then I cannot support a bill. It's just as plain and simple as that."

Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) said Waxman's Memorial Day target would require giving lawmakers like him time to study the climate bill. "Mr. Waxman is a very experienced legislator, and I think he realizes he can't just dump this on us one day and move it forward," said Melancon, a three-term congressman representing the state's southeastern swampland.

Asked if the committee's Democrats would be a "rubber stamp" on whatever legislation Waxman produces, Melancon replied, "That'd be a firm no. But I have committed to be open minded and try to resolve issues rather than just take an opposing position."

"I think the work starts today," added Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)

DeGette, the Democrats' chief House deputy whip, also predicted GOP support for the legislation, though she would not name any names. "I'd have to take a survey," she said.

Off Capitol Hill, environmental groups and companies involved in U.S. CAP welcomed Waxman's decision to spell out a four-month game plan.

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Francis Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But you'll never know how long it takes if you don't get started."

Jeff Sterba, president and CEO of PNM Resources Inc., a New Mexico-based electric utility company, said he wanted to see Congress write and vote on climate legislation this year. "They can move quickly if they want to," he said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Climate Crash?

Going into 2009, there will be many changes in U.S. climate policy.  That is welcome news.  What is NOT welcome news is that so far, many of these changes seem to be driving the issue right off another ideological cliff - only this time, a liberal one.

I'm the first to admit that Republicans, by and large, have mishandled the climate issue in particular and the issue of the environment in general.  But just because one party is behaving badly does not by ANY means indicate that the other party is "good" on the issue.  

I had hoped that the Obama message of "change" would mean a break in the partisan way of doing business, but it is shaping up to look like that, unfortunately, will not be the case with climate change.  

Looking at the new leadership in the influential House Commerce & Energy Committee as well as the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, we can get a glimpse of the new desired approach - one that caters almost exclusively to the most strident environmental groups desire to "punish industry".  It remains to be seen whether the Obama environment/climate appointments will also follow in this path -- one that will guarantee no bill passes through a still mostly divided Congress (on this issue at least), or whether they chart a brave direction toward bi-partisanship and compromise -- the ONLY way anything EVER passes through the U.S. legislative process.

I hope for the best, but would alert people following this issue to the need to impress on the new leaders the dangers -- TO THE ENVIRONMENT of giving in to the feel good approach of partisan idealism.  We are rapidly running out of time to get started on a climate regime that will allow us to reduce emissions by the needed levels to avoid irreversible affects on our planet.  We can not afford to waste another 2 years - this time by sounding good and getting nothing done.

I would also alert those who have been less engaged than they should have been on this issue for many years -- WAKE UP!  The window is rapidly closing on the ability to get sound policy that is sustainable for both the economy and the environment.  

The only test for the next Congress on this issue -- is what they get DONE - NOT what is proposed and how much grandstanding occurs.  In the end, that's just more hot air emissions.

Below is a story from the Wall Street Journal discussing some of the inside baseball changes happening -- and proof of what I'm referring to.

At the end of the day, members who represent coal states and oil states and car states -- will need to see a climate plan that is a pragmatic, steady transition toward a carbon constrained economy -- regardless of whether there is a D or an R behind their name.  The sooner we all realize this reality and work with it, the faster we can get started saving the planet . . . and ourselves.

The Climate Purge

Coup d'etat at the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Henry Waxman moved to consolidate his coup d'etat at the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee just hours after he was installed as the new chairman this week. It appears that the California liberal, with his customary subtlety, is plotting a night of the climate-change long knives.

[Bart Stupak]

Democrats dumped the current Chairman John Dingell because he does not favor global-warming action aggressive enough to suit the party's green wing. Now his lieutenants, who've been known to share his views, are targets too. Gene Green, an oil-patch Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on environmental issues, sent out a panicked Dear Colleague letter that called for "healing" and volunteered that he has enjoyed working "with Chairman Waxman on a number of other issues and I would hope to continue it."

Then Bart Stupak -- Mr. Dingell's chief deputy, head of the investigations subcommittee and resident FDA demagogue -- chimed in that he, too, looks forward to carrying on "the important work Chairman Dingell and I began."

But the Dingell ally who should be looking over his shoulder most nervously is Rick Boucher, chairman of the energy subcommittee. Mr. Boucher has been a friend to the coal industry and hardly finds himself in a comfortable position now when his incoming boss supports a moratorium on coal-fired power. Mr. Boucher's likely replacement is Ed Markey, Nancy Pelosi's climate-change point man, now head of the telecom subcommittee. In a fit of anti-Dingell pique, Speaker Pelosi last year stripped Mr. Dingell of jurisdiction over climate change, giving the portfolio to a special panel run by Mr. Markey. Never mind that the new panel, under House rules, lacks the power to mark up legislation. Mr. Dingell called the committee "as useless as feathers on a fish" and "an embarrassment to everybody."

No doubt Mr. Dingell's comments were among the many sins he's now paying for. Soon taxpayers will be paying a stiff price too if Mr. Waxman and company succeed in their plans to use federal money to subsidize all kinds of "green" energy interest groups.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Green Bubble

Well, as I was just saying . . . the economy is going to force the "green" movement to either become practical and intertwined with energy policy in a constructive way, or it will become last year's "fad" that fades away as just another part of the excesses of the 90s and the oughts.  Unless environmental groups want to be remembered by history as a "luxury issue"-- fun to indulge in when money was easy, but not considered essential, then they had better start re-defining what it is they are "for" and "against" away from the environmental, anti-human activity, anti-industry rants of the past and toward the pragmatic problem-solving entities needed for our new energy future.

If what is happening to our economy right now is not a huge wake-up call for environmentalists of all stripes, then there is no hope for them.

But I think there IS hope for some.  And crisis does offer opportunity for great advancement, if taken.  If the technical knowledge and passion that exists in many environmental organizations can be tapped in the larger service of securing our energy future -- recognizing the need to reign in costs and go step-by-step, then amazing things can happen. 

L.A. Times


The green bubble bursts

Amid the energy crisis, Democrats are losing the high ground on the environment to a GOP that is pushing oil drilling.
By Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger 
September 30, 2008
As the election enters its endgame, Democrats and their environmental allies face a political challenge they could hardly have imagined just a few months ago. America's growing dependence on fossil fuels, once viewed as a Democratic trump card held alongside the Iraq war and the deflating economy, has become a lodestone instead. Republicans stole the energy issue from Democrats by proposing expanded drilling -- particularly lifting bans on offshore oil drilling -- to bring down gasoline prices. Whereas Barack Obama told Americans to properly inflate their tires, Republicans at their convention gleefully chanted "Drill, baby, drill!" Obama's point on conservation and efficiency was lost on an electorate eager for a solution to what they perceive as a supply crisis.

Democrats and greens ended up in this predicament because they believed their own press clippings -- or, perhaps more accurately, Al Gore's. After the release of the documentary film and book "An Inconvenient Truth," greens convinced themselves that U.S. public opinion on climate change had shifted dramatically, despite having no empirical evidence that was the case. In fact, public concern about global warming was about the same before the movie -- 65% told a Gallup poll in 2007 that global warming was a somewhat or very important concern in comparison to 63% in 1989. Global warming remains a low-priority issue, hovering near the bottom of the Pew Center for People and the Press' top 20 priorities. 

By contrast, public concern about gasoline and energy prices has shifted dramatically. While liberals and environmentalists were congratulating themselves on the triumph of climate science over fossil-fuel-funded ignorance, planning inauguration parties and writing legislation for the next Democratic president and Congress, gas prices became the second-highest concern after the economy, according to Gallup.

This summer, elite opinion ran headlong into American popular opinion. The train wreck happened in the Senate and went by the name of the Climate Security Act. That bill to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would have, by all accounts (even the authors'), increased gasoline and energy prices. Despite clear evidence that energy-price anxiety was rising, Democrats brought the bill to the Senate floor in June when gas prices were well over $4 a gallon in most of the country. Republicans were all too happy to join that fight.

Indeed, they so relished the opportunity to accuse Democrats of raising gasoline prices in the midst of an energy crisis, they insisted that the 500-page bill be read into the Senate record in its entirety in order to prolong the debate. Within days, Senate Democrats started jumping ship. Democratic leaders finally killed the debate to avert an embarrassing defeat, but by then they had handed Republicans a powerful political club. 

Republicans have been bludgeoning Democrats with it ever since. They held dramatic "hearings," unauthorized by the Democratic leadership, on the need for expanded oil drilling to lower gas prices. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly announced a book, "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less," a movie and a petition drive. And Republican presidential candidate John McCain stopped making speeches about his support for bipartisan climate action, which is how he had started his campaign, and attacked Obama and congressional Democrats for opposing drilling instead. 

On June 9, three days after the emissions cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate, Obama led McCain by eight points, according to Gallup. By June 24, the race was in a dead heat, a shift owed in no small part to Republicans battering Democrats on energy. Seeing the writing on the wall, Obama reversed his opposition to drilling in August, and congressional Democrats quickly followed suit. 

But the damage has largely been done. In following greens, Democrats allowed McCain and Republicans to cast them as the party out of touch with the pocketbook concerns of middle-class Americans and captive to special interests that prioritize remote wilderness over economic prosperity. 

In a tacit acknowledgment of their defeat, some green leaders, such as the Sierra Club's Carl Pope, have endorsed the Democrats' pro-drilling strategy. But few of them seem to realize the political implications. The most influential environmental groups in Washington -- the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund -- are continuing to bet the farm on a strategy that relies on emissions limits and other regulations aimed at making fossil fuels more expensive in order to encourage conservation, efficiency and renewable energy. But with an economic recession likely, and energy prices sure to remain high for years to come thanks to expanding demand in China and other developing countries, any strategy predicated centrally on making fossil fuels more expensive is doomed to failure.

A better approach is to make clean energy cheap through technology innovation funded directly by the federal government. In contrast to raising energy prices, investing somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion annually in technology R&D, infrastructure and transmission lines to bring power from windy and sunny places to cities is overwhelmingly popular with voters. Instead of embracing this big investment, greens and Democrats push instead for tiny tax credits for renewable energy -- nothing approaching the national commitment that's needed.

With just six weeks before the election, the bursting of the green bubble is a wake-up call for Democrats. Environmental groups, perpetually certain that a new ecological age is about to dawn in America, have serially overestimated their strength and misread public opinion. Democrats must break once and for all from green orthodoxy that focuses primarily on making dirty energy more expensive and instead embrace a strategy to make clean energy cheap. 

By continuing to hew to the green agenda, Democrats have not only put in jeopardy their chance of taking back the White House and growing their majority in Congress, they also have set back the prospects of establishing policies that might effectively address the climate and energy crises.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are authors of "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" and co-founders of the Breakthrough Institute.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why the Greens Need Pragmatism

One of my favorite books on environmental policy is Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.  Although I don't agree with all of their policy solutions, that's the beauty of being a pragmatist - take the good, leave the rest.  What I think they do an amazing job of is laying out the problem with the modern environmentalist movement today -- and its focus on limiting people rather than empowering them as a means to deal with pollution.  

This book also gives a great explanation for how funders - with the best intentions, often end up creating a market force FOR conflict and high rhetoric, rather than a reward for pragmatic bridge-building.  

I checked back in on the BreakThrough website and saw a number of articles worth looking at.  
Click the following link to check out the latest at The BreakThrough Institute.  In particular, there was an article about the rapid change in politics on the oil drilling/climate issue that made me think.  The point of that article was to chronicle how fast the politics changed this past summer.  It quotes Democratic leaders as confident about passing comprehensive climate legislation, only to end the summer by looking for ways to expand drilling opportunities as a means to appease the public on high gas prices.

There are several interesting points of discussion in this article.  But the one that really struck me was how this recent history should be a big piece of proof to green groups everywhere that you MUST adopt a more pragmatic, solution-based focus if you want the environmental issue to survive high energy prices and an economy in turmoil.

It may be that the green groups were able to get away with partisan Bush-bashing (I'm not saying I'm a fan of Bush's environmental policies here - I'm definitely not!) and the rhetoric of the pure while times were good and people had disposable income to spend on organic, everything-free products that are sustainably made and only grown by farmers dedicated to not making a profit.  But times have changed - and we are likely to be dealing with a bad economy and high energy prices for some time now.  If enviros want their issue to have staying power beyond being the latest yuppie fad, they have to be willing to Gasp, compromise and work with people that don't already agree with them.  

Now I know many of the green groups claim to have this as a goal.  But preaching to people who don't agree with you doesn't count.  And for groups that are really trying to reach out, it must be recognized that you need to be willing to speak the other side's language -- to recognize their concerns from time to time (i.e. the concern about the cost to the economy of a climate change plan).  Green groups need to understand that they are largely comprised of people who have nothing in common with those who don't agree with them -- and certainly the language they use on this issue is far from objective and carries baggage that many well-meaning enviros don't even realize they are inflicting.  

The point is, recognize this weakness and recruit guides to help make the transition.  Reach out to people that walk in both worlds (trust me, they DO exist) and ask them to help you formulate messaging that will not get the figurative door closed on your group before you even get through the first meeting.  

I know this is a long shot -- because by and large, people LIKE to feel superior far more than they like getting things done.  It seems to be a sad bi-partisan truth about us humans.  

But just maybe if we recognize the problem, we can begin to fix it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Finding Green Balance

A good friend sent me a link to an interesting article I recommend to you.  The article is titled It's Not Crazy Being Green" and you can read it by clicking on the title.  The article talks about the needless differentiation between "the environment" and "the people" and how the modern environmentalist movement has become a partisan battle over purity rather than what it always should have been:  an understanding that the environment and the people are irrevocably linked.  

The health of a people IS in large part due to the health of the environment in which they live. If you have any doubt about this -- take a look at developing country that has not yet dealt with environmental pollution to any real degree.  Would you want to live there?

So how do you go from a relatively non-controversial point -- like saying we all live in our environment, so of course we care about its pollution, into the partisan divide we see before us today where nearly every environmentalist group is a liberal one and conservative groups take turns highlighting the latest infringement of freedom that the environmentalists are proposing?  

I don't have all the answers -- but it seems to me that part of the problem is that we allow issues to be too easily defined by others with agendas that have little to do with the named issue.  The problem is fed by the human tendency to gather in groups that are alike.  My rule of thumb these days in evaluating an advocacy organization -- is this:  How much are they really trying to reach out to those who don't agree with them?  For many groups working on the environment, the answer is, they aren't!  

One way to begin to change this dynamic is through the "marketplace" if you will for non-profits that work on environmental issues.  In your personal giving, make it clear that you are giving to organizations that are working to bridge the divide.  And on the larger front, write to foundations that give large amounts of money to environmental groups encouraging them to fund cooperative, educational, bridge-building work rather than partisan, feel-good attack dogs.

One thing is for sure, if funders demand results rather than rhetoric, they will start getting it.  And then the environment would truly be better off.

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