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Paying attention to “friends”

April 14th, 2009 · 3 Comments

To many in the climate ‘blogosphere’, myself not excepted, the siren’s call of tackling global warming denial, of deceitful astroturf “studies” distorting the situation, and of shoddy ‘faux and balanced’ reporting in the nation’s newspapers of record can eat up too much of our attention. We must pay attention to what is actually going on in the real world. Scientific developments. Discussing meaningful Congressional legislation. Obama Administration appointments. Statements from Administration officials, and the President himself. Achievements (and problems) with changing policies. New (and old) technologies and approaches to changing our energy and pollution paths. And … The list, you see, is near endless.

Sometimes, as we get caught up in this very long and very serious list, elements fall off the wagon (so to speak). For this blogger (and, sadly, it seems too many others), one of those fallen items is paying attention to how “friends” are undercutting (less politely, perhaps, call ‘stabbing in the back’) efforts to move forward with meaningful legislation approaches to tackling the intertwined E3 (economy, energy, environment) challenges and opportunities.

Recent votes in the Senate have highlighted how “moderate” Democratic Party Senators (“fencesitters” when it comes to climate issues)are unprepared for leadership on climate issues and lacking the political courage to take on deceitful arguments about the costs (without talking of benefits) of acting sensibly re climate change. Sadly, the “Gang” of moderates, seeking some form of middle ground between looking back toward an 18th century concept of energy and moving forward into the 21st century, seem wedded to false conceptions and false constructs as to the opportunities and challenges before us. It is long past time where Gang activities should be allowed to continue to operate in the murky shadows, at least as far as this blogger is concerned, and it is time to shine some daylight on them.

Derived in part from disgust over another weak New York Times article on energy, the Wonkroom’s Brad Johnson turned a critical eye to the coal industry’s political power in Missouri and its efforts to fight any movement forward on climate legislation. Caught in the cross-hairs: Senator Claire McCaskill, who has staked out a prominent slot in that “moderate” crowd.

McCaskill, as quoted by Living on Earth in March

Yes of course I want to support a climate change bill but the devil is in the details.

Absolutely. Lieberman-Warner was nothing to be cheering about a year ago as there were a lot of dirty devils in the details.

We have to make sure that the people of Missouri don’t end up paying two or three times what they’re paying now to turn on the lights.

There are multiple problems with this.

1. Who, other than astroturfing alarmists and Republican operatives, is speaking of a tripling of Missourians electricity prices from today’s about 6.3 cents / kilowatt hour to 18.9 cents? This is a massive distortion of where the conversation is and what the likely paths are. An initial carbon price wouldn’t hit until about 2012, or so, and would likely be in the range of $15 ton for the initial period, which would place a total additional cost per kilowatt hour in the range of 1 cent — and that assumes (which is unclear) that all of that cost would be directly passed to consumers.

2. And, that “cost”, that “don’t end up paying” feeds directly into one of the core challenges in the entire discussion: that too many “leaders” stove-pipe discussions, rather than leading and education. Here McCaskill is focusing on “costs” in terms of contracted energy prices, rather than including external costs (such as asthma in our children, pregnant women and infants unable to eat tuna due to coal-fired electricity mercury, acidification of the oceans and, oh by the way, global warming with implications such as more disastrous storms).

3. Claire is parroting the “light switch tax” false framing of those fighting against action on climate change. People are concerned about the climate, they want to see change, but there are fears that they will “lose” from action, they fear Jimmy Carter and ‘sitting in the dark’. Claire uses that scare language. In fact, Energy Smart approaches won’t leave people sitting in the dark, but will actually help provide lighting that costs far less to own and, by the way, creates far less risk. (LED lights cannot cause burns, like incandescents, since there is so little waste heat that your baby could fall asleep against an LED light and, hours later, you’d barely be able to feel a temperature difference for that portion of the skin.)

We can’t mandate a draconian cap and trade system if the utilities in the country don’t have the technology available to them. So we have to make sure that that technology is proven and accessible before we impose standards that are impossible to obtain.

Look how Claire buys in, hook-line-and-sinker, into the fossil-foolish talking points to be expected from astroturfers rather than Democratic Party leaders. “mandate … draconian … don’t have technology available … make sure technology is proven and accessible before we impose standards that are impossible …” Claire, do you realize that these words could have come directly from a coal-industry executive and seemed absolutely what would be expected?

Do we have, in hand, 100% of the technologies required to achieve 2050 pollution reduction levels in the most cost-effective manner? Almost certainly not, and thus energy research merits a quite serious boost (that is, energy efficiency and renewable energy research). Do we have, in hand / on the shelf, more than enough energy efficiency and renewable energy paths to exceed the reductions required by 2020? And, do so at a net positive for the US economy, even without counting the carbon/global warming implications? Almost certainly, yes.

Thus, Claire, are you arguing that we can’t set 2050 “standards” until we have, without question, 100% of the technologies down pat to achieve those targets? If so, you are taking a stand to doom the plant to catastrophic climate chaos. But, the 2020 targets, even the already inadequate IPCC targets that are much stronger than what is in the Waxman-Markey House bill? We already have “the technology available … proven and accessible …”, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not.

YOUNG: But carbon capture might be a decade away. Does that mean we wait a decade before we address climate change? Scientists tell us we don’t have that much time.

MCCASKILL: Oh no, we have to address climate immediately and we will. I just think we’ve got to find that sometimes elusive middle ground.

Claire clearly fits within Matt Yglesias‘s description

good for Democrats, since it helps them achieve their goal of pretending to try to avoid the destruction of the planet while ensuring that, in practice, the planet is destroyed.

Now, again, the Wonkroom’s Brad Johnson singled out McCaskill for criticism and one of Claire’s staff members responded in her defense.

Senator McCaskill supports cap and trade to curb carbon emissions. She wholeheartedly believes that global warming must be slowed.

But 85% of Missouri’s power is currently supplied by coal. Missouri’s power grid is so outdated that, if enacted right now, such legislation would be disastrous for Missouri’s energy consumers, because regional monopolies ensure there is no competitive alternative — the costs borne by energy companies would be completely passed on. That’s why Sen. McCaskill supported provisions in the stimulus to modernize the power grid and ready Missouri and other coal-dependent states to receive energy from alternative sources.

Even with the modernization projects, cap and trade will raise prices for consumers, so Sen. McCaskill wants to make sure that revenue from carbon taxation goes back to help cushion that blow.

Sen. McCaskill couldn’t care less about energy company profits — she wants to protect Missouri’s energy consumers.

If Claire “wholeheartedly believes that global warming must be slowed”, her actions in the Senate certainly don’t show it. The most generous comment would be that she “wholeheartedly believes” that we should be dealing with Global Warming as long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone in her state. She seems to buy into right-wing propaganda and framing far too often.

This comment buys, utterly and as per Claire, into the false economy vs environment framing. “Such legislation would be disastrous for Missouri’s energy consumers”. Huh? Well, perhaps Claire and her staff want to pay attention to the fact that the Missouri’s citizens voted overwhelming (66 to 34 percent) last election (e.g., amid the financial meltdown and worsening of the W recession) for Proposition C, a ballot measure to create a meaningful renewable energy standard even though it openly stated that it would likely lead to increased energy unit prices (even though only marginal cost increase, a cost increase was on the ballot). That Proposition, by the way, goes a reasonable part of the distance toward setting Missouri on a path to meeting likely climate change legislative requirements.

Just as with Claire’s statement, this staff comment speaks to costs as if the electricity cost per kilowatt-hour is the only thing on the table, without dealing with that pesky little issue of external costs (asthma cases, acid rain, mercury in the environment (wonder why pregnant women and young children shouldn’t eat tuna: look no further than turning on the light switch in Missouri (and elsewhere, of course, that is heavily reliant on coal) or the overall issue of energy services (what the citizens care about is cooling their food, not necessarily the system to cool it: refrigerators 20 years ago used 1750 kilowatt hours/year, today (even with water cooling, ice making, etc), the average is about 500 kWh / year — receiving better services at a lower total cost, even if electricity is higher at a unit price).

Now, if Claire McCaskill were standing up and giving strong speeches about how Missouri and other coal-dependent states should get lopsided assistance in terms of moving to renewable energy and energy efficiency, I’d be cheering her. That would be protecting her citizens while protecting the planet’s habitability for humanity.

If Claire spoke about the importance of thinking about the cost of “energy services” rather than focusing on the cost of a kWh, then I’d be cheering her.

If Clair were leading and showing political courage on the intertwined issues of economy, energy, and environment, then I’d be cheering her.

Sadly, that is not what Missouri’s citizens are seeing from their Senator.

Closing a circle …

Too many of us have, evidently, been focusing too much of our attention to the George Wills of the world. This has, it seems, been a mistake. In fact, Claire (and other “moderates” sabotaging the ability to move forward to a more prosperous, climate-friendly society) merit more of our attention.

Now, if this doesn’t give Claire McCaskill (or other “Gang” members) a fair shake ( “fair shake” (fair, not “faux and balanced”), please feel free to use the comment section to provide material that you think supports your case.

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Tags: carbon dioxide · Congress · democrats · electricity · emissions · Energy · energy efficiency · energy smart · environmental · Global Warming · government energy policy · politics · pollution

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Twitting Claire // Jun 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    […] Not for the first time, Claire McCaskill seems to be showing some serious misconceptions about the c….  It is hard to figure out just how many ways in which this is not just wrong-headed about climate change issues, but ignorant of all of ACES’ protections for “businesses and families in coal-dependent states” and ignorant, it would seem, of the payoff Missourians (her voters) would receive if ACES became law. […]

  • 2 Avaaz Action Factory helps Senators pump it up and make a STRONG climate bill « It’s Getting Hot In Here // Jul 10, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    […] was particularly relevant because she has repeatedly expressed concern that the climate bill is ‘too strong’ (to paraphrase). With the Strongmen’s help, Claire can beef up her stance on climate, provide the […]

  • 3 Hey, Twit Claire, we do not have “50 years” … // Jul 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    […] because of, in no small part, comment by people like Senator Claire McCaskill spreading misinformation about the implications of moving forward with clean-energy action to address climate change mitigation. [See note […]