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The Logic of Emergency: Strategy for a Climate Tea Party

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The Ruthless Logic of Climate Emergency

Since emergency is a common English word, most U.S. kids can roughly define it before reaching middle school. Yet most U.S. adults (even those not duped by Koch brothers' propaganda) seem utterly clueless that our climate--and therefore humanity itself--is facing one.

This article is written for the shockingly few adults who grasp the dire urgency of global warming, and who realize we now need our government's command-and-control powers as desperately as we would in the wake of a Category 5 hurricane. I hope it offends everyone else. Like a needed but unwelcome wake-up call. And it should, since I spare no one's pet preconceptions, but just ruthlessly follow the logic saving our climate requires.  


Boston Tea Party Ship--Let's throw climate traitors overboard! (2013-10-01 - 17.00.01)
Boston Tea Party Ship--Let's throw climate traitors overboard! (2013-10-01 - 17.00.01)
(Image by Bob Linsdell)
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My Two (or Three) Governing Assumptions

Two assumptions govern everything I'll say: (1) the timetable for effective climate action is so narrow it's a matter of years, not decades, and (2) since government command-and-control powers are absolutely critical, any effective climate solution must be found through politics. I also embrace a third crucial principle, but it's more like a corollary of (1) and (2)--and of deeply pervasive U.S. political corruption--than an independent assumption. Namely, that forcing our government to take effective climate action simply can't wait for overall campaign and lobbying reform. No, we must browbeat our current government, corrupt as it is, into stroke-of-midnight climate rectitude.

The verb browbeat is precisely what makes me think of a climate-action Tea Party, for what more effective agent of political browbeating have we seen than the Tea Party--Republican moderates' worst nightmare? And, as I'll explain shortly, all the requisite elements now seem to be in place for building a climate-champions' version.

Before elaborating the "construction materials" now available to form a climate-action Tea Party, I wish to provide some evidence for my governing assumptions, since they're so critical to my case.

First consider (1), the narrowness of the timetable. The science literature substantiating this is vast--and terrifying--and can be found (in layperson-friendly "executive summaries") by scanning the contents of any major climate blog, like Joe Romm's Climate Progress. What strikes me is that certain "bellwether" predictions of climate models (leading indicators of things to come) like glacial, polar, and permafrost ice melt, and ocean warming and acidification, are happening faster than forecast by most models. And the frequency of extreme weather--result of a more energy-pumped atmosphere ("a climate on steroids")--is another climate-model prediction that's kicked in alarmingly fast. If a world-renowned climatologist, like NASA's (now retired) James Hansen, can see a single anti-climate project (albeit a huge one) like the Keystone XL pipeline as "game over" for the climate, it strikes me we're already pretty near the point of no return. What's equally telling, Hansen retired early from his distinguished NASA post precisely to devote his energies to full-time climate activism--and many climate scientists, who vastly prefer the lab to the limelight, are (if not retiring early) still following in Hansen's activist footsteps. Some nagging fly must be troubling their routinely placid activist ointment.

Not merely the rapidity of climate change confirms my assumption of a narrow timetable, but the fact that it's a global problem. Remember, even if we can browbeat U.S. pols into climate righteousness, we still have a world of fossil-fuel consumers--some in extremely energy-hungry developing nations--to convince. Granted, in per-capita consumption, Americans are by far the worst fossil-fuel offenders, but China and India together dwarf our population, and Brazil's not exactly minuscule. We can hope the good old U.S.A., by dint of its "hard" and "soft" power, will be the first in a line of climate-action dominoes, but that's hardly a given. So, we must allow years (let's pray not decades) for the world to replicate our rebirth into climate righteousness--which vastly shortens the timetable for action here. 'Nuff said for assumption (1), the desperate shortness of our climate timetable.

Let's move to assumption (2), that government command and control is our climate's only salvation. This assumption is of course intimately linked to assumption (1), our minuscule window for action. Now, if we had forever for a political revolution to take place, or for a lifestyle revolution in people's reliance on fossil fuels, we could spare ourselves all need for up-tempo reliance on government command and control. But a political revolution (with which I have strong sympathies) would simply remake government's command-and-control powers in a more responsive, populist mold, and that remaking would itself demand considerable time. If there's a faster way of seizing our government's command-and-control powers to save the climate (and I think there is), it's deeply irresponsible (given our desperately short action timetable) not to use it.

And if we wish to rely instead on a revolution in lifestyles, all I can offer is Jerry Seinfeld's sardonic catchphrase "Good luck with that." Besides the will, most Americans lack the time, money, and knowledge to radically reduce their fossil-fuel use. The whole point of invoking government command and control is to make fossil-fuel producers pay the full climate cost of their carbon dioxide or methane pollution, thereby counteracting the artificial cheapness of these fuels and making renewables more attractive. An excellent climate-action bill cosponsored by Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, the Climate Protection Act of 2013, does precisely that, while further rebating the carbon tax government would collect to consumers to aid with the costs of overhauling their carbon-based lifestyles--a scheme warmly advocated, notably, by top climatologist James Hansen. Needless to say, fighting to pass the Climate Protection Act would loom large in the strategy of a climate-action Tea Party. But here, I mean simply to stress that without such a tax-and-rebate scheme, saving the climate through massive voluntary changes in lifestyles strikes me as some overly mellow Deadhead's 4 a.m. pipe dream. "Morning Joe" is a far better drug for climate savers.

Building on Billionaires

So down to brass tacks: What materials lie at hand to build a climate-action Tea Party, and what would this "party" actually do? Now for me, the question of "building materials" is one of exciting recent developments. For the absence of a key construction item--billionaire backers--was a fatal design flaw in True Blue Democrats (TBDs), my earlier pet political building project. For TBDs, like the climate-action Tea Party, was an attempt to apply wildly successful Tea Party strategy and tactics to a noble end: to browbeat Democrats into behaving like progressives. What I gradually came to realize (and felt really stupid for having missed) was that an absolutely essential ingredient in the Tea Party "concrete" was billionaire backing--and that billionaires were hardly ready to back a movement to make Democrats genuine progressives. Which might mean, after all, taxing billionaires into nonexistence.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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