Climate: integrated left or post-partisan?


in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, Science, The environment

In a recent article, British journalist George Monbiot argues that climate change mitigation advocates must join forces with a broader progressive coalition in order to see their ideas implemented. Alongside environmental concerns, this coalition ought to be “against the [public spending] cuts, against the banks, against BP, unemployment, the lack of social housing, the endless war in Afghanistan.” It should have the same kind of dynamism as the American Tea Party movement, and the same sort of enthusiasm for demanding policy changes.

While I certainly recognize the current impotence of the climate change mitigation movement (backsliding from the United States to Australia to UNFCCC negotiations), I don’t think Monbiot is right. Climate change mitigation is something we must undertake because of the physical realities associated with the climate system and the consequences of emitting greenhouse gases. It is not fundamentally a partisan issue, and dealing with it is not fundamentally tied to political views on issues like housing or Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the world cannot afford climate change mitigation to be a policy only of the political left. Inevitably, left-wing and right-wing governments alternate in power, as voters become disgusted by the excesses of each subsequent administration. Dealing with climate change requires a long descent towards zero net global emissions, over a span of decades. It’s not something that can be vigorously taken up for four, five, or eight years and then abandoned in favour of aggressive exploitation campaigns for unconventional fossil fuels and loosened environmental planning regulations.

Climate and the right

Besides, climate change is something that can be integrated into the political traditions of the right in several ways. Conservatives should love carbon taxes, since they are a mechanism to keep one person’s behaviour from impacting unduly on the freedom of others, while also allowing the maximum range of possible means for stopping the harm. Such taxes demonstrate faith in markets, innovation, and the capability of people to respond rationally and effectively to appropriate incentives. Further, there is a long tradition in conservative political philosophy of seeing the current generation of human beings as trustees of the planet, with a duty to pass it along in an improved or at least preserved state.

That being said, climate change is a major challenge to the libertarian view that people are essentially autonomous and should be free to do as they like. Laissez faire policies that ignore ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations are likely to create the need for a far harsher eventual clampdown, once the harms associated with climate change become entirely undeniable. Also, given the lag time between emissions and their consequences, those concerned for the future state of the world cannot continue to tolerate ethical systems that include an unlimited right to pollute. Political thinkers across the political spectrum need to come to grips with what climate science has taught us, and think deeply about how that affects both the factual inputs to their moral reasoning and the moral precepts that serve as the foundation of their political philosophy.

Blocking opportunism

Broad political consensus on dealing with climate change would also have another important role, as protection against populist opportunists. Once serious carbon prices have become common, making things like travel significantly more expensive, it seems inevitable that political parties will crop us that campaign to eradicate the fetters people have put upon themselves and return to the happy free-wheeling days of unlimited greenhouse gas emissions. In order to head off such short-sighted but potentially popular responses, it is necessary for serious politicians and parties of all stripes to continue to publicly express their appreciation for how cutting global emissions to zero is a practical necessity, and a project that cannot be abandoned because of the impracticalities it imposes on people.

Eventually, climate change denial must become entirely discredited among all serious politically active people, and the political conversation about climate change must shift to being about the mechanisms through which deep cuts can be rapidly achieved, rather than about whether such cuts are necessary, or whether we should condemn future generations to a harsh and unstable world for the sake of short-term economic benefits for us.

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{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan June 15, 2010 at 11:00 am
Padraic June 15, 2010 at 11:19 am

Very well put, Milan. As soon as I read the first sentence of this post, I had the same reaction: environmentalists should be appealing to fiscal conservatives. If Andrew Coyne and Greg Mankiw support a carbon tax, the potential coalition is very large.

Anon June 15, 2010 at 11:52 am

One question is how much important political philosophy actually has for right-wing political parties.

One cynical view is that they exist primarily to defend the interests of powerful corporations and rich individuals, though they use rhetoric to convince ordinary people that they are really supporters of the little guy.

The left is arguably equally devoid of intellectual seriousness. Instead, they are just in hock to different interest groups such as unions, public servants (who fear cuts), etc.

Dealing with climate change isn’t really vital to the short-term interests of either group of elites.

Anon June 15, 2010 at 11:57 am

An interest-based view of politics has some worrisome lessons, when it comes to climate change.

Look at corn ethanol. It’s a crap climate change ‘solution’ but there are influential groups that profit from it, like farmers and big agricultural corporations. With that backing, corn ethanol has found political support across the spectrum in North America, with big subsidies, government mandated production targets, and more.

The trouble is, all this probably does more harm than good for the climate.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I do think conservatives should be in favour of carbon taxes. The fact that few are supports (but does not on its own prove) Chomsky’s assertion that traditional conservatism has been dead for perhaps a century – what remains is a business party which uses, hypocritically, the moral language of conservatism to support nothing like what he means by traditional conservatism.

I don’t think ecological crisis is a fundamental challenge to the libertarian view. The libertarian view has in its base the harm principle. Even Nozick argues for a watchman – perhaps all ecological crisis demonstrates is that in order to be individuals, we need to co-operate on at least one more level than we assumed. In short, if the environment is not neutral with respect to individual action, then we need to take time into account when discussing harm in the harm principle.

I think the fundamental challenge of ecological catastrophe is not against libertarian ideology, but against the ideology of hypocrisy. When environment is at stake, we can’t say one thing and do another – we have to say what we actually do. This is fundamentally different from every other form of discourse – since they rely on something other than the content of the discourse, hypocrisy does not result in their own destruction or undermining. For instance, the activity international law does not rely on international justice, it relies on the power of states. If international law required equitable dispensation of its justice in order to continue to exist, it would have starved as soon as it came into existence. With the environment, on the other hand, we actually do rely for our life on the content of the discourse.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 2:26 pm

What climate change does is not to undermine the logic of libertarianism, but rather to make it impotent in practice.

“You are free to do whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t harm unconsenting others” becomes a far less liberating doctrine when you include activities that emit greenhouse gases in the list of harms you are not permitted to cause.

There are some ‘harms’ that can legitimately be excluded from the libertarian calculus. For instance, everyone has a right to earnestly criticize the social, political, and religious beliefs of everybody else, even if such criticism is hurtful or offensive to the person receiving it. (Though personal abuse may be a different matter) The argument for excluding such ‘harms’ is utilitarian – having protection for free speech benefits everybody in the long run.

I cannot, however, see how climate change harm can be legitimately excluded. As such, and as I argued before, climate change hollows out libertarianism, leaving it largely incapable of empowering people.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Chomsky’s assertion that traditional conservatism has been dead for perhaps a century

What reason do we have for not considering traditional liberalism equally undermined? If the right uses a hypocritical ideological front for legitimacy, while really advancing the interests of certain organizations and individuals, what reason do we have for saying that the left isn’t doing the same?

On the matter of corn ethanol and interest politics, this Slate article is worth a look:

The most disgusting aspect of the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the video images of oil-soaked birds or the incessant blather from pundits about what BP or the Obama administration should be doing to stem the flow of oil. Instead, it’s the ugly spectacle of the corn-ethanol scammers doing all they can to capitalize on the disaster so that they can justify an expansion of the longest-running robbery of taxpayers in U.S. history.

When it comes to making climate change policy, there is a constant danger of policy-makers getting scammed or corrupted by those hoping to profit from new government policies.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

“what reason do we have for saying that the left isn’t doing the same?”

Did I say anything about the left?

Milan June 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Normally, accusations leveled at one side of a pair include the implicit claim that the other side is less guilty of the same offence.

In any case, I think the key question is what sort of strategic political approach could produce meaningful action on climate change. On the left, I think that requires the recognition that climate change is ultimately a much more important problem than many of the other issues about which voters, candidates, and activists are concerned. On the right, it requires overcoming climate change skepticism, and accepting that there is both ideological and policy scope for climate change mitigation within conservatism.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

“What reason do we have for not considering traditional liberalism equally undermined?”

Traditional liberalism makes liberty the central goal of society. Since liberty is compromised by wage labour and all forms of economic oppression, including inheritance laws that effectively reproduce a monied aristocracy which controls the state, traditional liberalism is far to the “left”, certainly farther left than any elected parties in North American politics.

Traditional liberalism stresses that individual freedom can and should be limited only in those cases where an individuals actions impede on others. From “On Liberty”:

“That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. ”

You can say this is a “far less liberating” doctrine because of climate change if you want – but what does this mean? I think more knowledge of the effects of our actions on others makes libertarianism more liberating because it helps us better understand how to engender liberty in society. After all, the goal of society is not to maximize your personal liberty, but to maximize the personal liberty of all.

According to this logic, actions which harm others by restricting their liberty not in accordance with the harm principle are not “free” actions at all, but tyrannical actions. I think tyranny is the right way to conceive of climate injustice, wage slavery, support for the “right” we grant Israel to commit crimes against humanity, etc…

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

“Normally, accusations leveled at one side of a pair include the implicit claim that the other side is less guilty of the same offence.”

Why do you think this?

What is the relevance of “less guilty” as a moral status? If we judge on principle, than any guilt is to be condemned. The idea that one side is to be preferred over another rather than both be condemned is morally bankrupt logic used to justify the crimes of those we side with.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm

After all, the goal of society is not to maximize your personal liberty, but to maximize the personal liberty of all.

The degree to which acknowledging the fact of climate change restricts individual liberty is what drives some libertarians to become climate change deniers.

They cannot accept that every action they take with a greenhouse gas consequence is the business of everyone alive today, and for thousands of years in the future. This whole discussion is an inarticulate but emotive demonstration of this way of thinking.

They are wrong for feeling this way, but I think this chain of reasoning is one major reason why climate change denial has been such an influential movement, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that humanity is changing the climate in dangerous ways.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I agree with you – I would say that they are not being true to liberty, but are turning libertarianism into a defence of tyranny. This is nothing new – the political right has been using libertarianism as a defence of tyrannical labour practices since the end of the depression.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 3:13 pm

The corresponding problem on the left seems to be always maintaining climate change as a back-burner issue:

“Sure, it’s important to deal with climate change. But right now, unemployment is the real issue. Or gay rights. Or homelessness. Or reform of the financial sector. Or foreign policy. Or reform of immigration, etc.”

All these things can make a claim to being more urgent than climate change, but failing to prevent catastrophic or runaway climate change would make all efforts in all these areas seem secondary in retrospect.

Monbiot’s big tent progressivism seems especially ill suited to elevating climate change to the level of serious treatment it deserves.

Padraic June 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Monbiot also overlooks how different left-wing groups have severely undercut climate change policies in practice. Auto and forestry workers want the government to save failing car companies and to keep the price of electricity low. The federal NDP bashed Dion’s Green Shift and the BC NDP bashed Campbell’s carbon tax.

Implementing climate change policies will have hugely unequal impacts on society, since the current benefits from dirty industries are equally unequal. It’s inevitable that some of those impacts will fall on the left’s sacred cows.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I think the corresponding problem on the “left” is that the left has also picked up a moral discourse (communitarian, socialist, whatever) and uses it hypocritically to advance business interests, or in the case of the BC NDP, to an extent big-union interests.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm


That is certainly true. I have previously accused the NDP of opportunism for opposing carbon taxes. I have also written to my (NDP) MP raising the issue.

Perhaps cap-and-dividend has the best chance of being a carbon pricing strategy that people from across the political spectrum can embrace. James Hansen thinks so.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Implementing climate change policies will have hugely unequal impacts on society

This can be reduced to some extent through clear signposting and progressively tougher policies.

If a political consensus emerges to establish a carbon tax at $20 a tonne, rising progressively up to an eventual level of thousands of dollars a tonne, everybody will be fairly warned and free to take precautionary action.

Arguably, the wealth earned by individuals and organizations through emission intensive activities in the period between when climate science became clear and serious climate policy emerged was ill-gotten anyway.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

“Implementing climate change policies will have hugely unequal impacts on society, since the current benefits from dirty industries are equally unequal. It’s inevitable that some of those impacts will fall on the left’s sacred cows.”

Implementing climate policies can have whatever impacts we want them to have. If we want to use climate mitigation policy to create jobs, create more livable cities, improve and increase the use of public transportation, decrease people’s reliance on disposable consumer goods, to reduce the overall amount of work done – we can.

Also, I think the use of the term “sacred cow” is needlessly offensive – both to the left and to anyone for whom cows are sacred. If you think cows are sacred, then it’s insulting to equate them with leftist principles which must be crushed. And if you think the principles are valid but not for a reason that exceeds human intelligence, it’s insulting to have them equivocated with religious sanctity.

Probably the best argument I’ve ever heard for leftist climate change policy is the “horizontal versus vertical equity” argument – basically the idea that there is a fundamental tension between caring about horizontal equity (equity for future generations) but not vertical equity (equity in our generation).

Milan June 15, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Implementing climate policies can have whatever impacts we want them to have.

I think there is a legitimate debate about whether or not climate change policies should be incorporated with other forms of social policy, such as increasing the use of public transportation or decreasing reliance on disposable consumer goods.

The defensible libertarian stance is that we should adopt whatever minimal policies will lead to carbon neutrality before unacceptable harm has been done to the planet, but leave the details of how that takes place to the uncoordinated decisions of individuals.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm

“The defensible libertarian stance is that we should adopt whatever minimal policies will lead to carbon neutrality before unacceptable harm has been done to the planet, but leave the details of how that takes place to the uncoordinated decisions of individuals.”

No, this isn’t even half right. Liberty isn’t necessarily benefited by the “uncoordinated decisions of individuals” if decisions by some individuals impede the liberty of others. The defensible libertarian position includes (at least) a critique of unfree labour, and a critique of the psychological manipulation of desire.

Nor is the libertarian position to stop only when “unacceptable” harm is done to the planet. Even “slight harm” to the planet will cause mass migrations – this is a huge imposition on the liberty of others, and a great harm especially to those who have strong connections with the land they occupy. The true libertarian position is highly concerned with even relatively local ecological effects of our actions insofar as they cause harm to others – i.e. how particulate emissions from Europe might play a role in Africa’s drought cycle.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Nor is the libertarian position to stop only when “unacceptable” harm is done to the planet. Even “slight harm” to the planet will cause mass migrations

This returns us to a question raised several times before: by what right do people emit any CO2 at all?

Pragmatically, it seems necessary to accept avoiding more than 2°C of warming as a highly ambitious target, given the momentum of global emissions. After all, the coal plants being built today will still be quite capable of operating in 50 or 75 years.

The fallback target is avoiding catastrophic climate change which threatens the ability of human civilization to endure.

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I don’t think that people, as individuals, have a right or don’t have a right to emit Co2. I think it’s a mistake to think “individuals emit C02” – in fact, C02 only becomes a problem because they live in societies based on the emission of Co2. Individuals have a duty to change their societies such that they do not emit Co2.

It’s possible that humans don’t have a right to not be carbon neutral at all. Am I wrong to think that for most of human history, humans were near carbon neutral? I.e. up until 4000 B.C.E.? If that supposition is correct, and the turn away from carbon neutrality is associated with the rise of civilization, then perhaps human civilization doesn’t have a right to exist.

Or, if civilizations have relatively slight effects on the planet up until the scientific and industrial revolutions, perhaps humans simply don’t have a right to mine combustibles.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Estimates vary about when fossil fuel burning eclipsed deforestation and other land use change as a cause of climate change.

I think the basic moral principle is that this generation of humans bears a moral obligation to pass along an acceptable planet to future generations of humans.

If that principle is accepted, two questions of application apply. Firstly, how does that principle manifest itself in terms of individual morality? Secondly, (the purpose of this post) how can be bring our politics into closer alignment with what the principle demands?

Tristan June 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I disagree that the two questions have any distinctness from each other. Social activity exhausts my individual responsibilities, and social activity is politics.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I think the question of individual morality risks derailing this conversation, and would be better off as a stand-alone topic.

Milan June 15, 2010 at 4:25 pm

We have the option of treating climate change as a standalone factual issue, which in turn has political consequences.

One of the big benefits of doing so is being able to reduce the extent to which action on climate change is tied to specific ideologies and political parties. As the initial post explained, we cannot succeed in dealing with climate change if our climate policies change course sharply every time there is a new government.

Also, as individuals associated with the climate change policy debate, it seems useful to be able to disentangle our views on climate change policy from broader political leanings. If we don’t, we risk having those (more important) views rejected, just because somebody objects to an unrelated part of our broader political thinking.

R.K. June 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm

It may be convenient in some ways to treat climate change as a stand-alone issue, but it is undeniable embedded in all forms of intelligent long-term planning.

Perhaps successful incorporation of climate change will eventually be one item on a checklist of issues of what a successful political ideology or viewpoint requires. Right now, at least in North America, you can still have a successful political ideology that treats it as a non-issue, or even an intentional fraud.

Jonathan June 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

Hey Milan,

Darn it. I had checked this earlier today, and had some comments I wanted to make, but most of them have already been made. So, just a couple of thoughts:

First, you’re absolutely right that the idea of treating climate issues as partisan politics is undesirable. It’s easy to see why those pushing for climate change action would align with the left. That’s where most of the activity has been. Unfortunately, as we reinforce this dynamic, we push people away from environmental issues. We’re less likely to see open and honest debate, and more of the typical team mentality that is so pervasive in politics.

I think you’re too dismissive of the libertarian angle to this. Certainly, the harm principle can come in to play here. There’s also a tragedy of the commons aspect, and libertarian thought is often geared towards effective ways to deal with such issues.

I also think that you are looking at this a little too much from your own perspective. Your preferred outcome is zero emissions. Fair enough. However, reasonable people can take climate issues seriously and disagree with this outcome. I think of someone like Jim Manzi (definitely on the right, kind of libertarian – depending on how your defining things). So, if we put this outcome aside, and just focus on the need for people/libertarians/the right to approach the matter properly, libertarian thought isn’t rendered impotent.

This is part of the problem also. Too many people on the right seem unwilling to think of their own solutions to environmental concerns. They happen not to like one policy proposal, so they just reject the matter out of hand (sorry, I know that’s a bit of a straw man, but it’s late).

Milan June 16, 2010 at 12:11 am

I also think that you are looking at this a little too much from your own perspective. Your preferred outcome is zero emissions.

Zero net emissions (sources minus sinks) is simply the definition of what stopping climate change means.

It would be very helpful to simply slow it down a great deal, by cutting emissions very low, but ultimately climatic stability depends on keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere constant.

In the long run, that means cutting emissions to the level at which the very slow weathering of rock removes them from the atmosphere.

Jonathan June 16, 2010 at 9:18 am

Ok, a couple of quick thoughts, Milan:

Yes, if you decide that zero net emissions must be an eventual outcome of all environmental policy, then that really restricts the debate. But as you mention, slowing down emissions would be helpful. There’s a lot of room for collaboration on this point (as the context of this whole discussion is moving away from a partisan dynamic). Perhaps such collaboration will break down when emissions are greatly reduced, but for now, that’s not really a concern.

Further, my comment was regarding libertarian political philosophy and its role in such collaboration. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to think that libertarian thought (like most other political philosophies) could offer ideas on how to move towards the goal… even if it doesn’t wind up getting you all the way.

Milan June 16, 2010 at 10:15 am

Firstly, zero net emissions isn’t just one possible goal among many. When people talk about stabilizing concentrations at 550 parts per million, or 450ppm, or 350ppm, they are always implicitly talking about cutting net emissions to zero. That is simply what stabilizing concentrations requires. It’s akin to deciding that you don’t want to go any more deeply into debt. The only way to accomplish that is to stop spending more than you are earning; no other target makes any sense, or can achieve the objective.

If ackowledging that ‘restricts the debate,’ it only does so in the sense of restricting the debate to what actually objecively needs to be done, if we are not to live on an ever-warming planet.

Secondly, the zero target isn’t something that is off in the distant future. Avoiding temperature increase of over 2°C probably requires stabilizing atmospheric concentrations below where they are now. That means having emissions peak soon and fall to zero well before the end of the century.

Milan June 16, 2010 at 10:21 am

Incidentally, it is possible to stabilize below current levels mostly because the oceans haven’t yet sucked as much CO2 out of the air as they can. As they do so, however, they will become more acidic.

We can also draw down atmospheric CO2 to some extent through reforestation, though the scale to which we can do so is limited. I don’t see most of Europe and North America returning to a forested state any time soon.

Tristan June 18, 2010 at 10:53 am

What do people think about the Cochabamba climate summit?

“High-level delegations also came from Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Cuba, with representatives of 40 other governments present. Crucially, however, talks were led by those in attendance, not by governments. This was a sharp distinction from any UN processes, where civil society and Indigenous Peoples must often fight to be heard, let alone have their input respected. ”

Milan June 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

I think it’s states that really matter as climate change actors. They are the only ones who can implement things like carbon pricing, carbon tariffs, etc.

That said, civil society organizations are important insofar as they can contribute to the development of public support for effective policies, while also lobbying government to implement them.

klem June 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I see many of you are realizing that perhaps carbon pricing or carbon taxes aren’t really about saving the planet after all, they’re about ideology and making money. I can hear the shock and dismay from some of you as you are just now hit by the stark reality that the lunatic skeptics were right. Some of you write like you’ve known this for some time. The truth is coming out folks, slowly but surely it’s coming out. I love it. This is a great blog!

Tristan June 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm


States decide whether they will listen to civil society or not. These 40 states have decided they will listen. What do you think about that? Why did you not even cover this summit on your blog, which is usually an excellent source for geo-political climate politics information?

Milan June 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm


If you actually want to make a serious argument about why climate change is not happening, caused by human beings, or something to worry about, I recommend doing so on the threads I pointed out before.

I also have a post keeping track of previous arguments with climate change deniers, and an index of posts concerning them.

Milan June 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Why did you not even cover this summit on your blog, which is usually an excellent source for geo-political climate politics information?

Just another summit in an endless string, going back decades.

If you want, you are welcome to write something about it for BuryCoal.

. June 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

‘Alternative summits’ embody a grass-roots strategy for change

By Antonia Zerbisias

There will be no fences, no fake lakes, no photo opps.

But the alternative summits, forums and “Days of Action” happening in Toronto during the G8 and G20 meetings later this month will be bringing in world leaders of a different sort to share information and strategies for world change.

They aim to get the public interest — not the corporate interest — on the public agenda.

Such meetings and rallies are about power for more ordinary people, people who care about climate change, poverty, worker rights, and human rights. Their open gatherings are counterpoints to the closed-door sessions between the heads of the world’s richest nations, and their financial elite.

Not that demonstrations bring about social change, she notes. Nor do these alternative events, at least not immediately. They’re all about networking and exercising democratic options on the local level.

“The point isn’t necessarily to directly influence the government summits,” Hochstetler explains. “The emphasis is on learning what others are doing and then emulating strategies and trying them at home. These are the kinds of things that come out of these conferences.”

mek June 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

The NDP’s populist streak re: carbon taxes has completely discredited them, in my opinion. I have zero trust in their ability to advocate for meaningful climate change reform.

Tristan June 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm

If anyone’s interested in seeing what an “integrated left” might look like, I recommend they come to Toronto this weekend to see the alliance of groups arriving here to oppose the G8/G20 meetings. It’s characterized principally by a mutual respect and support of each other’s goals.

As for the NDP – it’s a fake grassroots party, working within an anti-grassroots system. There are some good things about it, but we shouldn’t expect it to be able to express the general will of working people within a corporate centric media-produced, superficially-democratic aristocratic oligarchy.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 8:17 am

In my experience, these demonstrations consist much more of ‘co-located’ groups than integrated ones.

Sure, lots of organizations come out to express their general displeasure, but they certainly do not agree about which problems are most pressing, or what ought to be done about it.

Also, such gatherings invariably include at least a minority of genuine crazies.

I stand by my initial conclusion: it is much more important to make people of all political stripes serious about dealing with climate change than it is to unite the efforts of left-wingers to achieve that end.

Milan August 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm

One of today’s Slate articles makes an interesting point:

“Nobody’s going to mistake the Tea Party for the civil rights movement. And there’s nothing unseemly about the right’s embrace of [Martin Luther] King. This is America at its best: A man once disowned as a partisan and a rebel now belongs to all of us.”

Conceivably, something similar could eventually happen to the climate change mitigation movement generally, and to leaders like Al Gore and James Hansen specifically. Perhaps one day, Republicans will be embarrassed by how blatantly their predecessors within the party denounced these individuals and sought to oppose their aims.

. August 31, 2010 at 4:11 pm

“The rally organizers didn’t pretend that all our sins were behind us. “We as citizens must all carry Martin Luther King’s dream in all of our hearts today,” said the rally video. “The dream is not completed. It’s an ongoing struggle, one that all Americans should always be willing to undertake.” Borrowing a favorite progressive buzzword, the video affirmed King’s recognition in 1963 that “this was the day to inspire change.” And it noted with approval that when King “was told to be patient, he said, ‘I have too little time.’ ”

Consciousness, shame, redemption, change, impatience. These are more than concessions. They’re ways of thinking and living. They’re the core of the progressive worldview.

If you think this isn’t enough—if you’re holding out for an endorsement of carbon taxes or subsidized health insurance—you’re looking at the rally the wrong way. This is how conservatives embrace progress. First they resist it. Then they lose to it. Then they assimilate it. They frame it as a fulfillment of longstanding values. They emphasize common threads between reformers and founders. They reinterpret the nation’s origins to match the new ethos.”

Tristan August 31, 2010 at 6:41 pm

The problem with the idea of a post-partisan approach is that it ignores the extent to which the existing political system of inequalities and injustice is actively complicit in the prevention of serious action to prevent global warming. If corporations are strong enough to mount disinformation campaigns which have swung public opinion from large support for Kyoto pre-Bush, to majority belief in the global warming “hoax”, how can any climate justice politics be neutral with respect to highly concentrated corporate power and its structure of selfishness before common interest?

Sure, the integrated left approach looks more difficult – but unlike the post partisan approach, it isn’t totally idiotic.

Milan September 1, 2010 at 8:17 am

Left-wing and right-wing governments are going to keep alternating in power. Unless you want the climate change policy dynamic to be ‘one government sets them up, the next one knocks them down’ some sort of post-partisan consensus seems necessary.

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm

When was the last time a left-wing government was in power in a Western state? I mean an actual left-wing party, not the humanist wing of the business party.

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm

It goes without saying that any “integrated left” approach has to go beyond the “lip service to human values, real service to business and corporate interest” politics of what passes for “left wing” governments.

On the other hand, any kind of politics in which leaders acted on their own conscience rather than as tools in a system no one is controlling would be adequate to dealing with climate change. Greenman3610 did us a significant service, I think, when he reposted the footage of Margaret Thatcher arguing for the importance of making sacrifices because of the dangers of climate change. Now, Thatcher was certainly a “bad person”, and pursued many policies which hurt people in the short and long term. But, the entire poll-tax incident showed that she was certainly not simply a product of business interests.

Milan September 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Do you think a political coalition that embraced a whole range of left-wing issues would be easier to get elected than current centre-left parties?

I would think such a group would have an even harder time getting into power – a likelihood that further diminishes how useful a left-wing coalition would be for dealing with climate change.

. October 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm
. October 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm

“But there had been no communication with the senators actually writing the bill, and they felt betrayed. When Graham’s energy staffer learned of the announcement, the night before, he was “apoplectic,” according to a colleague. The group had dispensed with the idea of drilling in ANWR, but it was prepared to open up vast portions of the Gulf and the East Coast. Obama had now given away what the senators were planning to trade.

This was the third time that the White House had blundered. In February, the President’s budget proposal included $54.5 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees. Graham was also trying to use the promise of more loan guarantees to lure Republicans to the bill, but now the White House had simply handed the money over. Later that month, a group of eight moderate Democrats sent the E.P.A. a letter asking the agency to slow down its plans to regulate carbon, and the agency promised to delay any implementation until 2011. Again, that was a promise Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman wanted to negotiate with their colleagues. Obama had served the dessert before the children even promised to eat their spinach. Graham was the only Republican negotiating on the climate bill, and now he had virtually nothing left to take to his Republican colleagues. “

. October 12, 2010 at 10:21 am

Progressive causes are failing: here’s how they could be turned around

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 12th October 2010

So here we are, forming an orderly queue at the slaughterhouse gate. The punishment of the poor for the errors of the rich, the abandonment of universalism, the dismantling of the shelter the state provides: apart from a few small protests, none of this has yet brought us out fighting.

The acceptance of policies which counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st Century. In the United States, blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires should pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us?

The answer, I think, is provided by the most interesting report I have read this year. Common Cause, written by Tom Crompton of the environment group WWF, examines a series of fascinating recent advances in the field of psychology. It offers, I believe, a remedy to the blight which now afflicts every good cause from welfare to climate change.

Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the Enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.

A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn’t work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

. October 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

“For his part, Roberts, who seemingly accuses Walsh and and Klein of participating in “narcissistic post-partisan fantasies,” forecloses any possibility of a good faith debate, much less a bipartisan agreement on energy policy:

It’s a power struggle, not an argument. It will be won through political force, not persuasion. It’s the oldest war in the book, progress vs. status quo, and it doesn’t help matters that so many smart people refuse to fight for, or even associate with, their own side.’

Yup, in the climate debate, it always boils down to whose side you are on.”

. October 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

“Post-Partisan Power” – Report Overview

How a Limited and Direct Approach to Energy Innovation Can Deliver Clean Cheap Energy, Economic Productivity, and National Prosperity

It is time to hit the reset button on energy policy, according to scholars with American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute, who are today releasing a new report, “Post-Partisan Power,” which calls for revamping America’s energy innovation system with the aim of making clean energy cheap.

The new report calls for increasing federal innovation investment from roughly $4 today to $25 billion annually, and using military procurement, new, disciplined deployment incentives, and public-private hubs to achieve both incremental improvements and breakthroughs in clean energy technologies. The authors point to America’s long-history of bi-partisan support for innovation.

Writes David Leonhardt in today’s New York Times, “the death of cap and trade doesn’t have to mean the death of climate policy. The alternative revolves around much more, and much better organized, financing for clean energy research. It’s an idea with a growing list of supporters, a list that even includes conservatives — most of whom opposed cap and trade.”

Mark Muro of Brookings tells Politico the proposal’s four parts “are broadly popular, provide a very broad and appealing American vision of economic transformation and are certainly far more doable than a global pricing system at this point.” Added Steve Hayward of American Enterprise Institute, “The entire climate and energy agenda that we’ve been talking about for several years now has hit a dead end, so it’s time to hit the reset button.”

. October 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Bill McKibben, scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont and the founder of, says it is a tragedy that conservatives are turning their back on the science behind climate change.

“On this issue maybe more than most, we need that interplay of liberal and conservative,” he says. “Liberals are good at sort of pointing the way forward in kind of progressive new directions and conservatives are good at providing the anchor that says human nature won’t go along with that. That back and forth has been very useful.”

If Republicans take control of the House this November, McKibben says, he doesn’t see a future for climate change policy.

“Look, the Democrats — with a huge majority — couldn’t pass climate change legislation even of a very, very weak variety this year, so I doubt there’ll be any action over the next two years.”

That is, unless conservatives decide to team up with liberals.

“We desperately need conservatives at the forefront of the fight,” McKibben says. “The sooner that conservatives are willing to accept the science, the reality, the sooner we can get to work with their very important help in figuring out what set of prescriptions, what combination of market and regulation will be required in order to deal with the most serious problem we’ve ever stumbled into.”

. October 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm

“In December 2006 the [Energy Security Research Council] issued a report advocating a balanced energy policy. Raising auto-fuel efficiency standards was the first chapter…

The Council took its campaign to the Senate. At one hearing, council member Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, former commander of the Pacific Fleet (and later director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration), argued that excessive dependence on oil for transportation was “inconsistent with national security” and that nothing would do more than “strengthen fuel economy standards” to reduce that dependence.

Fuel efficiency standards were no longer a left-right issue. Now they were a national security and a broad economic issue. New standards flew through both houses of Congress.”

Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. p.181 (hardcover)

. May 17, 2012 at 11:21 am

Not that long ago, some folks were arguing that clean energy — unlike climate change, which had been irredeemably stained by partisanship (eww!) — would bring people together across ideological lines. Persuaded by the irrefutable wisdom of wonks, we would join hands across the aisle to promote common-sense solutions. It wouldn’t be partisan, it would be … post-partisan.

Some day, I will stop mocking the people who said that. But not today. The error is an important one and it is still made regularly, especially by hyper-educated U.S. elites. They think clean energy is different from climate change, that it won’t get sucked into the same culture war. They are wrong.

On clean energy, the material/financial aspects of the conflict are the easiest to understand. Wind, solar, and the rest threaten the financial dominance and political influence of dirty energy. Last week, the Guardian broke the story of a confidential memo laying out a plan to demonize and discredit clean energy, meant to coordinate the plans/messages of several big right-wing super PACs funded by dirty-energy money.

. July 10, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Republicans Tired Of Climate Change Deniers Launch Initiative For Global Warming Action, Carbon Price

Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis is “urging conservatives to stop denying that humans are contributing to global warming.”

Inglis, a South Carolina Republican beaten by the Tea Party in 2010, is launching the “Energy and Enterprise Initiative” at George Mason University to push “conservative solutions to America’s energy and climate challenges.”

. July 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Kelly McParland: Australian about-face hands Ottawa ammunition against ‘tax on everything’

. July 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm

How the GOP Could Win the Climate Debate
By Eric Bradenson

Editor’s note: This article was awarded second place in the “Young Conservative Thought Leaders” contest from the Energy & Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University.

. October 5, 2013 at 7:57 pm

The main mark against Labor’s policy card is that it has shifted a long way towards Mr Abbott’s position on asylum-seekers. Aside from that, it has a reasonable record. It has loosened its traditional ties to the trade unions and promoted growth and enterprise. It has managed the economy well while introducing popular social programmes, including an insurance scheme for disabled people, reforms to schools aimed at raising teaching standards and a high-speed fibre-optic network that is now being laid out across the vast country. It put a price on carbon emissions by introducing a carbon tax in July 2012. Given that Australia is both the world’s biggest coal exporter and heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, this is a laudable achievement. Mr Abbott, once a climate-change denier, vows to scrap the tax (as well as cut spending on Labor’s schools and broadband projects).

. July 26, 2014 at 11:40 am

Australia became the first country in the world to repeal a measure to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions when the Senate voted to overturn the carbon tax, which Tony Abbott, the prime minister, promised to ditch when his party won an election last year. In a bad week for Australia’s image, it was also heavily criticised by the UN and Amnesty for returning a boat filled with Tamil asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka. See article

. July 26, 2014 at 11:42 am

More than conviction, it was populism that drove Mr Abbott’s campaign to abolish the tax. As voters’ support for action on climate change wavered, he branded the tax a “wrecking ball across the economy”, raising the cost of business and destroying jobs. He forecast that industrial cities such as Whyalla in South Australia would be “wiped off the map”. These predictions have not come to pass. Indeed, there were signs that the tax was starting to work, by encouraging Australians to switch to cleaner forms of energy. The Climate Institute, a research outfit committed to green policies, says the proportion of Australia’s electricity sourced from brown and black coal has fallen by a tenth in the two years since the tax started, while that from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, has risen by more than a third—though from a very low base.

The carbon tax brought the federal government revenue of more than A$7 billion ($6.5 billion) last fiscal year. In its place, Mr Abbott proposes a “direct action” plan. Details are sketchy, but its main feature is a public fund worth about A$2.5 billion over four years to pay big polluters to cut emissions. The plan is a nod to greens, and suits business by shifting the cost to taxpayers. But it sits oddly with the Liberal Party’s free-market instincts, and there are doubts about whether it will achieve Australia’s (bipartisan) commitment to cut carbon emissions by 5% from 2000 levels by 2020. Mr Abbott, meanwhile, is resisting a bid by Barack Obama to include climate change on the agenda of the G20 leaders’ summit in Brisbane in November.

. September 6, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Don’t get me wrong, I think that bringing diverse groups together is a key first step to building a movement for climate justice, and in organizing the March for Jobs, Justice & the Climate we managed to reach farther outside the box than any mobilization of it’s kind in Canada. Nevertheless, we fell into the same big tent trap of “uniting the left” on climate and believing that an intersectional approach to climate stops when we check enough movement diversity boxes in our coalition. We lost track of the fact that behind each group is a base of people with their own opinions, views and beliefs. Even if the groups in the room agree on something, the people we email, call and try to turn out in the streets might not.

. October 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm
. April 27, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Many More Republicans Now Believe in Climate Change

Poll shows a big leap from two years ago

The number of conservative voters who believe in climate change has almost doubled in the past two years, according to a new poll that attributes the rise in part to a lessening hostility toward the issue by Republican leaders.

Forty-seven percent of conservatives now say the climate is changing, a leap of 19 points since the midterm elections of 2014, according to the survey released yesterday by Yale and George Mason universities. The poll did not ask respondents whether climate change is caused by people.

The jump accounts for the single biggest change among all voting groups, and it could symbolize a softening among conservatives on an issue that has sharply divided the political parties, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

A number of things might have affected people’s attitudes, including Pope Francis’ encyclical calling for climate action, a record-warm winter and media coverage around the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report.

. June 4, 2016 at 6:19 pm
. September 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

It’s “a once-in-a-generation constellation of social movements, from labour unions and environmental groups, indigenous rights groups, migrant and refugee advocates and others who came together around these 15 demands to get Canada off fossil fuels,” he said.

The Leap Manifesto organization is also working on a proposal with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to convert Canada Post’s fleet into electric vehicles and push for postal banking as a way to fund green investments.

Lewis called the manifesto a non-partisan project, not necessarily beholden to the NDP (although he believes the NDP could regain momentum by reconnecting with “social movement energy”). He said he was “charmed” to hear Tzeporah Berman, co-chair Alberta’s oilsands advisory working group, arguing on CBC’s The Current that Canada can’t afford to build a pipeline and abide by its Paris agreement commitment.

. February 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

The declarations began early on, with one key word echoing across them. “We are going to resist, we are going to oppose,” the filmmaker Michael Moore announced on the Friday after Trump’s election. “This is going to be a massive resistance.” The following week, the former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann began a new video series titled “The Resistance.” In December, a group of former Democratic congressional staff members published a much-discussed pamphlet titled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” calling on liberals and leftists to emulate the most effective tactics of the Tea Party. On Twitter, hashtags like #ResistTrump, #NewAmericanResistance and #TheResistance document the range of concerns and movements now assembling under one banner: climate change, net neutrality, Black Lives Matter, reproductive and immigrant and disability rights.

Milan February 23, 2017 at 2:10 pm

One factor that affects the argument about whether climate change should be tackled alone or as part of a constellation of progressive projects is its unique urgency and irreversibility.

As Laurie Penny writes:

Of all the despicable things the runaway ghost train of the Trump administration has done in its first ferocious weeks, the attempt to utterly destroy every instrument of environmental protection is perhaps the most permanent. The appointment of fossil fuel tycoons and fanatical climate change deniers to key positions in energy and foreign policy, the immediate reinstitution of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, the promise to pull out of the Paris Climate Pact—all moves crafted to please the oil magnates who helped put him in power—these are changes that will hasten the tick of the time bomb under civilization as we know it. Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide toward bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. We don’t get a do-over on climate change. The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse as hard as they can.

If we lose this fight, no other fights will matter.

That doesn’t resolve the question of strategy, since the constellationists think their approach gives us the best chance of quick and decisive action.

. April 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm


Our group is open to all who are serious about solving climate change. You are welcome no matter where you live, what you wear, what you do for a living, or who you voted for in the last election. We work with elected officials and community leaders from across the political spectrum because we believe that everyone is a potential ally.

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