We’ve touched on this idea before – not the transposed smart-alecky version in the title, but the idea that someone somewhere is doing something about climate change. And because they are, everything will be cool (sorry). You might be doing something yourself – you might have biked to work today, or bought a diesel SUV that gets better mileage, switched out your soft white 75s for CFLs… whatever is, we’re all doing some of these things, which means we’re all doing something, in our way. Which come to think of it, is our way. More on that in a minute.
When it comes to government-level actions to tax carbon or enact a cap-and-trade regime, things are also moving – that is, people are doing things. You have the Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the house in June. And the senate version, leaked yesterday and released today, uses healthy doses of legislative lingo (I won’t say gibberish) to show boldness at reducing emissions while obscuring the polluting that will be allowed and the billions of dollars in emissions permitting that will be given away… ahem. This is the game, and one reason, among many, that you cannot merely be sanguine about the fact that someone in Washington (our capital) is doing something. There are many issues, among them – what is cap-and-trade? How is it different from a carbon tax?
Grist has a good interview with James Hansen of NASA, discussing the merits of these bills, what’s at stake and, reading between the lines, why we all need to understand the two questions above in order to hold solid opinions on whether someone is actually doing anything. Grist/Hansen:
One of the places most recently where you’ve been rather blunt is on the proposed Waxman-Markey climate bill. How would you summarize the problems that you see?
You can summarize the problem and prove that the bill is inadequate in a very simple way. You just look at the geophysical constraints on the problem and you look at how much carbon there is in oil, gas, and coal. And you see that the oil and gas is enough to get us into a dangerous zone for atmospheric carbon dioxide but not so far that we couldn’t solve the problem. But if you add coal and put that carbon in the atmosphere, then there is no practical way to solve the problem. So you just have to look at the proposed policy and see if it allows coal to continue to be used and emit the CO2 in the atmosphere.
You’ve got to cut off the coal source. Not only does [Waxman-Markey] assure that we will continue to run these coal plants that we have but it actually gives approval for additional coal plants. That simple test tells us that this bill is not adequate.
The basic point—the fundamental problem—is that because of government policies, fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. They are not made to pay for the damages they do to human health and the environment. As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, they are going to be used. That’s why I say you have to address the fundamental problem and that is put a rising price on carbon emissions.
You’ve been an advocate for a carbon tax instead of cap-and-trade. Why do you think a carbon tax is not getting much traction?
It’s partly because of the poor choice of words. I have a new description and that is “deposit and return.” Either a carbon cap or a carbon tax affects the price of energy and so they’re qualitatively not different. And so it’s kind of a mistake to call one a “tax and dividend,” and the other a “cap,” as if the cap does not increase the price of energy. If it doesn’t increase the price of energy, then it’s not going to be effective.
We have to begin to move to the sources of energy beyond fossil fuels. And the way you do that in a way that is economically sensible and beneficial is to do it gradually but continually. The public and the business community need to understand that the price of carbon will continue to rise in the future, and then we would begin to move more rapidly to the post-fossil fuel era.
So would it be fair to characterize the Waxman-Markey bill as business-as-usual, or is it even worse than business-as-usual?
Well, it’s a small probation of business-as-usual. It’s worse, in my opinion, than almost no policy because it does lock in, it does give approval for, some new coal-fired power. It puts a ceiling on the reductions that will occur. If you put a price on carbon emissions so that the competitors, the energy efficiency and the carbon-free energy sources, can begin to have the competitive advantage, then once you reach a certain point, things will move very rapidly and we will begin to leave the coal in the ground.
That’s what the coal companies are afraid of and they have been enormously effective in their impact on the politics, even though the truth is it’s not that big an industry and the total number of employees is not that large. But they are very powerful in terms of the number of senators and representatives they are able to influence, and apparently even the administration. It doesn’t make sense from an overall national perspective to give them such tremendous political clout. It is not in the best interest of the nation or the public.
We can move to simplified formulations to create helpful guides about the issue: if (measure x) does not increase the price of energy, it’s not going to be effective. Simple, understandable and clear – but we have to use them as starting places from which to move forward, likely toward measures that will require more of us and, just as likely, produce greater benefits that just being carbon negative or whatever. Quality of life stuff, like this new app I just found out about for taking in meaningful information on all sorts of subjects. It’s called sitting under a tree reading.
Exelon, one of the country’s largest utilities, said Monday that it would quit the United States Chamber of Commerce because of that group’s stance on climate change. It was the latest in a string of companies to do so, perhaps a harbinger of how intense the fight over global warming legislation could become.
“The carbon-based free lunch is over,” said John W. Rowe, Exelon’s chief executive. “Breakthroughs on climate change and improving our society’s energy efficiency are within reach.”
En garde, Monsieur Rowe; them’s librul fightin’ words if ever there was any. What might have starched these corporate britches?
What appears to have touched off the utilities’ withdrawals from the chamber was a recent article in The Los Angeles Times that cited chamber officials who called for a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” about the science of climate change. The Scopes trial was a clash of creationists and evolutionists in the 1920s.
Well, that would do it. One thing Leading Companies of Today™ cannot countenance is looking like yahoos – and I don’t mean a second rate search engine. Roy wrote recently about a new book on the Republican Party’s embrace/implosion at the hands of fundamentalist Christians, and this can be thought of along similar lines. What’s a healthy dose of the crazy, and how long can you ride it? The advantage gained to a political party, or a group of companies, by riding herd on the rabid willingness of zealots to say and do anything in pursuit of shared ideological goals can be measured in months. [This especially true when the shared goals are orthogonal - that is, mine aren't yours and yours aren't mine but they intersect in a way that we look like friends... even though I know you are crazy.] Corporations, far more nervous than politicians, know this, enter into such pacts far more cautiously and are quick to flee as the dial gets turned up. While it may have appeared that the GOP had secured the future of the country just a few short years ago, what they had actually secured was the limits of very finite, though quite enthusiastic, support. Politically, it was crazy from the go.
It’s not as though coporations are or should be considered paragons of ecological virtue. They just don’t want to look like idiots in a way that costs them money. And that, my friends, is what we call a teachable moment.
The whole idea that some morning arrives when everyone sees the light on climate change is all very… hopeful, especially as we harbor so much know-nothingness in our midst, and ring it with the implicit honor of supporting various points of view when it should rather be ridiculed into the obscurity it more properly deserves. When Inhofe goes to Copenhagen and makes a complete jerk out of himself, will that be the last straw? Will his fellow countrymen (you know, us/them) finally have seen enough of such antics? The question is almost self-refuting. Here’s Krugman today:
But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.
Nor is it just a matter of vested interests. It’s also a matter of vested ideas. For three decades the dominant political ideology in America has extolled private enterprise and denigrated government, but climate change is a problem that can only be addressed through government action. And rather than concede the limits of their philosophy, many on the right have chosen to deny that the problem exists.
It’s a pity that we can’t just drift back into politics on this, and rely on the responsible parties within government to act sensibly, with an eye toward the future. But to do so is to redirect oneself toward the conundrum, to see this is actually where a great amount of the stupidity, cupidity and brazenness is coming from. Our politics allows this to be just another right/left food fight, and so there’s little to avail there – and a great number of Amur’cans do refuse to support anything endorsed by Al Gore. That’s just our dumbness coming through. We’ll have to wait until it shows up on our one actual and true radar – we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it-on-TV, in the cool, detached aura of advertising. Unless or until global warming becomes a pitch device for corporate advertising, the one true and knowing entity in our culture remains neutral on the subject. As long as that persists, we can be sure there’s no need to make a decision.
But here’s the thing: what if the big multi-nationals don’t really have our best, long term interests at heart? Is there any history of that? When will they let us know that climate change is real? What is the window of remove, of detachment, on an existential question?
Say it with me: savvy enough to break through the idiocy.
The Time of the Assassins is Henry Miller’s study of Rimbaud, but in it he loops in all manner of late-nineteenth century tragic figure – Van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Gogol – he even mentions Jesus Christ in a way that completely makes sense. He’s talking about poetry, genius, death and magic. From page 96:
Always it is some invisible wand, some magic star, which beckons, and then the old wisdom, the old magic, is done for. Death and transfiguration, that is the eternal song. Some seek the death they choose, whether of form, body, wisdom or soul, directly; others approach it deviously. Some accentuate the drama by disappearing from the face of the earth, leaving no clues, no traces; others make their life an even more inspiring spectacle than the confession which is their work. Rimbaud drew his death out woefully. he spread his ruin all about him, so that none could fail to comprehend the utter futility of his flight. Anywhere, out of the world! That is the cry of those for whom life no longer has any meaning. Rimbaud discovered the true world as a child; he tried to proclaim it as a youth; he betrayed it as a man. Forbidden access to the world of love, all his endowments were in vain. His hell did not go deep enough, he roasted in the vestibule. It was too brief a period, this season, as we know, because the rest of his life becomes a purgatory. Did he lack the courage to swim the deep? We do not know. We know only that he surrenders his treasure – as if it were the burden. But the guilt which he suffers from no man escapes, not even those who are born in the light. His failure seems stupendous, though it brought him through to victory. But it is not Rimbaud who triumphs, it is the unquenchable spirit that was within him. As Victor Hugo said: ‘Angel is the only word in the language that cannot be worn out.”
“Creation begin with painful separation from God and the creation of an independent will to the end that this separation may be overcome in a type of higher unity than that with which the process began.”* [The Mystic Will, by H.H. Brinton]
At the age of nineteen, in the very middle of his life, Rimbaud gave up the ghost. “His Muse died at his side, among his massacred dreams,” says one biographer. Nevertheless, he was a prodigy who in three years gave the impression of exhausting whole cycles of art. “It is as if he contained whole careers within himself,” said Jacques Riviere. To which Matthew Josephson adds” “Indeed literature ever since Rimbaud has been engaged in the struggle to circumvent him.” Why? Because, as the latter says, “he made poetry too dangerous.” Rimbaud himself declares, in the Season, that he “became a fabulous opera.” Opera or not, he remains fabulous – nothing less. The one side of his life is just as fabulous as the other, that is the amazing thing. Dreamer and man of action, he is both at once. It is like combining Shakespeare and Bonaparte. And now listen to his own words… “I saw that all beings are fatally attracted to happiness: action is not life, but a way of dissipating one’s strength, and enervation.” And then, as if to prove it, he plunges into the maelstrom. he crosses and recrosses Europe on foot, ships in one boat after another for foreign ports, is returned ill and penniless again and again; he takes a thousand and one jobs, learns a dozen or more languages, and, in lieu of dealing words deals in coffee, spices, ivory, skins, gold, muskets, slaves. Adventure, exploration, study; association with every type of man, race, nationality; always work, work, work, which he loathed. But above all, ennui! Always bored. Incurably bored. But what activity! What a wealth of experiences! And what emptiness!
Read the whole thing; buy extra copies for your friends.
As the well-documented nuttiness of climate change denialism spirals towards the outward bounds of making any sense whatsoever, Pacific Gas & Electric (of Erin Brochovich fame) decides even it has had enough and will not sign on to the craziness otherwise endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
In a letter to the Chamber, PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Peter Darbee wrote:
We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.
PG& E’s communications director attributed the pullout not just to craziness on the part of the chamber but also to the fact that other companies had recently made similar decisions.
In the past several weeks, two high-profile companies – Duke Energy and Alstom – publicly gave up their membership in the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy in protest over its opposition to federal climate change legislation.
Other companies that similarly favor climate change legislation faced uncomfortable questions this summer over their memberships in similar groups that have mounted aggressive campaigns to defeat pending climate bills.
So, something resembling a kind of consensus appears to be building among a group of American energy companies, if not a larger plurality of Americans and American businesses who are at least beginning to not pretend to not see the light. Alas, this does not include the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has announced to National Review that he will be personally leading a “truth squad” to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, where he will make it clear to international leaders not to believe that the United States will pass legislation to deal with the issue.
“Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate,” said Inhofe. “Some people, like Senator Barbara Boxer, will tell the conference, with Waxman-Markey having passed in the House, that they can anticipate that some kind of bill will pass EPW.”
The extent to which reality has not penetrated our House of Lords would be unremarkable were it not for the solid case it is making for its obsolescence, to which we should listen and copiously note. Really, the inordinate and out of proportion voting power senators have, unless you are one, resembles nothing more than perceived nineteenth-century robber baron impact on killing ’savages’, crushing strikes and building railroads wherever their interests took them. That senators from North Dakota and California or New York have equal say on matters that affect tens of millions of people in the latter vs. hundreds of thousands in the former is just what it sounds like: an anachronism. But one that is marching backward on practically every issue of the day. It brings into question the whole bi-cameral nature of our legislative branch – it was conceived in a vastly different time and functions poorly in our present one. Saying that doesn’t seem nearly as outrageous as Inhofe going to Copenhagen to shriek nonsense about March snow storms in Oklahoma.
As though, with all of this rain, we hadn’t noticed. The local news shots of flooded interstate corridors are beginning to resemble dystopian feature films about impending climate catastrophe. And even those are going meta, with narratives set in the future where an activist looks at footage from this decade and laments our diddling. Hmmm…. we could be watching the same footage.
In New York this week, leaders of the world’s nations gather to re-outline the tough choices they don’t want to make, in foolhardy flank maneuver to defend future economic growth from the ravages of reduced carbon emissions(!). Sad, but one viable solution has been rolled out:
We’re the world’s biggest polluter who has no idea what to do about it – can’t use less, absolutely cannot tax ourselves more. Meanwhile, our best and brightest have been working nights and weekends:
The Justice Department is investigating whether former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton illegally used her position to benefit Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company that later hired her, according to officials in federal law enforcement and the Interior Department.
The criminal investigation centers on the Interior Department’s 2006 decision to award three lucrative oil shale leases on federal land in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary. Over the years it would take to extract the oil, according to calculations from Shell and a Rand Corp. expert, the deal could net the company hundreds of billions of dollars.
Norton, 55, was President Bush’s first Interior secretary. She had worked as an Interior Department attorney before being elected Colorado’s attorney general. Later, as a private lawyer, she represented mining, timber and oil companies.
As Interior secretary, she embraced an industry-friendly approach to environmental regulation that she called “cooperative conservation” and pushed the department to open more public land for energy production.
I hear people say, quite frequently, that corruption in the US isn’t as bad as it is in Europe and elsewhere. If that’s somehow true, it must be a comment on the failings of our system of government. And media. And embarrassment. Norton’s alleged traverse is all too common, and when that’s the case, who needs other forms of corruption? We seem to have found the sweet spot. The revolving door that lets foxes traipse into and out of the hen house with impunity, all the while castigating government as ineffective and ‘the problem’ would be the height of contempt were it not for the self-lubricating irony with which we find no bounds to our amusement (nor depths of silent admiration for these guileful players and their cunning stunts), even as we free ourselves from all possible insult. And this is not to single out literary critics for special abuse. In medicine, they induce this kind of insentience with anesthesia.
And what will it take for this to be reported with the relentless scorn given to ACORN, Van Jones or Henry Louis Gates yelling at that cop not to arrest him in his own house? Wait… those stories had black people in them! Wait… there’s a black guy in the White House!
This is one of those times when I’m hating on the we/they continuum. Ugh. While some Republican leaders sorta-kinda hedge on all the socialist-Hitlerite-Stalinist rhetoric of incoherence, it’s important to remember actually who these people and what their beliefs are.
“Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.”
When do you begin to question whether some actually believes what they say they do? As Benen pointed out, this guy has senatorial ambitions. Does he ever. This ‘thinking’ ties all the healthcare scaremongering to global warming denial with silly string. But when you try to gnaw into the string, to perhaps free its captives, the string tastes like… burning.
Just a note about the button there on the right. I won’t pretend not to have added it to the site if you won’t pretend you didn’t notice it.
Seriously, though, a little time line: whatdoesgreenmean.wordpress (free!) launched in April 2008; moved to whatdoesgreenmean.net (not free!) in the fall of 2008, basically in its present form. It may be time for 3.0, as I seek to keep you, and me, interested and engaged.
So, I’m considering a re-design for the site – nothing crazy, just a move to a content management system that takes advantage of the talents of the guy who does our hosting. Plus it would have a slightly different appearance. And though these elements would be good for the site, it’s not something I can contemplate underwriting myself at this point. So I thought I would solicit (your) help. Nothing more. Whether you decide to help or not, I already appreciate your support of the site and its steady growth.
Rainer Maria Rilke spent much of 1907, from June to November, in Paris following the traces of one of the formative influences on his poetry, Paul Cezanne, who had died the previous October. In correspondence with his wife Clara Westhoff, Rilke wrote about many of the elements to making things; in these careful but free flowing love letters by any other name, he allows us a particular view toward the ramparts of the possible, the desperate, the beautiful and the audible truths that rise from great artists and art work. From Rilke’s Letters on Cezanne, translated from the German by Joel Agee.
Monday, June 24
… This morning your long letter, with all your thoughts… After all works of art are always the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further. The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity… Therein lies the enormous aide the work of art brings to the life of the one who must make it, —; that it is his epitome; the knot in the rosary at which his life says a prayer, the ever-returning proof to himself of his unity and genuine-ness, which presents only to him while appearing anonymous to the outside, nameless as mere necessity, as reality, existence -.
So surely we have no choice but to test and to try ourselves against the utmost, but probably we are also constrained to keep silence regarding it, to avoid sharing it, parting with it in communication before it has entered the work of art: for the utmost represents nothing other than that singularity in us which must enter into the work as such, as our personal madness, so to speak, in order to find its justification in the work and show the law in it, like an inborn design that is invisible until it emerges in the transparency of the artistic. – Nevertheless there are two liberties of communication, and these seem to me to be the utmost possible ones: the one that occurs face-to-face with the accomplished thing, and the one that takes place within daily life, in showing one another what one has become through one’s work and thereby supporting and helping and (in the humble sense of the word) admiring one another. But in either case one must show results, and it is not lack of trust or withdrawal or rejection if one doesn’t present to another the tools of one’s progress, which have so much about them that is confusing and tortuous, and whose only value lies in the personal use one makes of them. I often think to myself what madness it would have been for van Gogh, and how destructive, if he had been forced to share the singularity of his vision with someone, to have someone join him in looking at his motifs before he had made his pictures out of them, these existences that justify him with all their being, that vouch for him, invoke his reality. He did seem to feel sometimes that he needed to do this in letters (although there, too, he’s usually talking of finished work), but no sooner did Gauguin, the comrade he’d longed for, the kindred spirit, arrive than he had o cut off his ear in despair, after they had both determined to hate one another and at the first opportunity get rid of each other for good. (But that’s just one side of it: feeling this from artist to artist. Another side is the woman and her part in it.) And a third (but only conceivable as a test for the upper grades) is the complication of the woman being an artist. Ah, that is an altogether new question, and ideas start nibbling at you from all sides as soon as you take just a few steps in their direction. I won’t say any more about this today.-