How to shift the US Congress?


in Economics, Law, Politics, Rants, Science, The environment

Writing for Grist, Randy Rieland has come up with a summary of arguments about why cap-and-trade is dead in the United States for now. He is right to say that the blame lies primarily with Congress, rather than with the Obama administration. Congress is the most powerful branch of government, and has been highly effective at blocking environmental legislation in the past. While the Democratic leadership in Congress is theoretically allied with the administration in the White House, even the two together clearly haven’t been able to overcome the wall of opposition to meaningful climate policies that has been constructed by Republicans, or the cowardice of moderate Democrats who are unwilling to fight to address this key problem.

The stragic question now becomes how to change Congressional behaviour, and do so before climate-related disasters become so frequent as to finally discredit climate change deniers completely. We cannot afford to wait that long, both because of the physical lags in the Earth’s climate system and the lags in our own infrastructure deployment. By the time the full danger of climate change is unambiguously on display, it will be too late to avoid some terrible effects. It will also be too late for the relatively unintrusive policies being proposed today to work. Sterner stuff will be required.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan July 28, 2010 at 5:05 am

“By the time the full danger of climate change is unambiguously on display, it will be too late to avoid some terrible effects. It will also be too late for the relatively unintrusive policies being proposed today to work. Sterner stuff will be required.”

Maybe it has reached the point where it’s becoming possible to say that this might be exactly the point.

The fight is, and as I can see always has been, against democracy. Democracy must be avoided at all costs because, in James Madison’s words, “the rich will always be a minority”. This is why we’ve never had democracy – why would those in power hand over power to the people? The historical answer is they don’t, at least not until the people can be trusted not to make the wrong decision. At that point “handing power to the people” is simply the best way to avoid violent demands from a people more and more educated in the ideals of liberal democracy. But, when that fails, as it has recently in Haiti and Gaza, well I don’t need to tell you what happens.

The logical conclusion is that even if states could force the business lobby to accept climate change mitigating policy – they might not – because the crisis that not dealing with climate change will produce will allow for a greater centralization of power in the hands of the few, and with less oversight.

The question is not will we deal with climate change – we certainly will in some way or another. The question rather is how long will we leave it, and what kind of political system will be in place when we begin dealing with it.

If we want to live in a world that doesn’t make “Children of Men” look like a documentary, we need to think seriously about creating political institutions which are adapted to the needs of the species, but which serve as an alternative to the growing centralization of power and wealth in the hands of such a small portion of the world’s population. Because things can’t stay the way they are, things will either get much better, or much worse.

Milan July 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I am still waiting to hear why a more economically equitable society would be better equipped to deal with climate change than a less economically equitable one.

Tristan July 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm

The accumulation of power by capital, whose short term interests are in conflict with the long term interests of the species?

Roughly, the disparity is a problem because it prevents capitalism of living up to its democratic ideals of a free market within the context of long term planning in the interests of everyone. I.e. my critique of Rawls I posted here:

Tristan July 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

We live in deeply corrupt states – and until we take account of that, and the structure behind it, we can’t make any simple links between social needs (such as the survivability of the human race) and political action.

. August 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

The Political Scene
The Empty Chamber
Just how broken is the Senate?
by George Packer

The Senate is often referred to as “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democrat from Oregon, said, “That is a phrase that I wince each time I hear it, because the amount of real deliberation, in terms of exchange of ideas, is so limited.” Merkley could remember witnessing only one moment of floor debate between a Republican and a Democrat. “The memory I took with me was: ‘Wow, that’s unusual—there’s a conversation occurring in which they’re making point and counterpoint and challenging each other.’ And yet nobody else was in the chamber.”

Tom Udall, a freshman Democrat from New Mexico, could not recall seeing a senator change another senator’s mind. “You would really need a good hour or two of extensive exchange among folks that really know the issue,” he said. Instead, a senator typically gives “a prepared speech that’s already been vetted through the staff. Then another guy gets up and gives a speech on a completely different subject.” From time to time, senators of the same party carry on a colloquy—“I would be interested in the distinguished senator from Iowa’s view of the other side’s Medicare Advantage plan”—that has been scripted in advance by aides.

While senators are in Washington, their days are scheduled in fifteen-minute intervals: staff meetings, interviews, visits from lobbyists and home-state groups, caucus lunches, committee hearings, briefing books, floor votes, fund-raisers. Each senator sits on three or four committees and even more subcommittees, most of which meet during the same morning hours, which helps explain why committee tables are often nearly empty, and why senators drifting into a hearing can barely sustain a coherent line of questioning. All this activity is crammed into a three-day week, for it’s an unwritten rule of the modern Senate that votes are almost never scheduled for Mondays or Fridays, which allows senators to spend four days away from the capital. Senators now, unlike those of several decades ago, often keep their families in their home states, where they return most weekends, even if it’s to Alaska or Idaho—a concession to endless fund-raising, and to the populist anti-Washington mood of recent years. (When Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, in 1995, he told new Republican members not to move their families to the capital.) Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader, said, “When we scheduled votes, the only day where we could be absolutely certain we had all one hundred senators there was Wednesday afternoon.”

. August 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

“Daschle sketched a portrait of the contemporary senator who is too busy to think: “Sometimes, you’re dialling for dollars, you get the call, you’ve got to get over to vote, you’ve got fifteen minutes. You don’t have a clue what’s on the floor, your staff is whispering in your ears, you’re running onto the floor, then you check with your leader—you double check—but, just to make triple sure, there’s a little sheet of paper on the clerk’s table: The leader recommends an aye vote, or a no vote. So you’ve got all these checks just to make sure you don’t screw up, but even then you screw up sometimes. But, if you’re ever pressed, ‘Why did you vote that way?’—you just walk out thinking, Oh, my God, I hope nobody asks, because I don’t have a clue.””

Ben September 21, 2013 at 4:31 am

It’s a notpology: Steig’s reecnt outbursts are merely his most reecnt effort to obfuscate the underlying point of our critique: that whatever was original in Steig et al 2009 was based on faulty mathematics; and that whatever was correct in Steig et al 2009 was already known. From the same post at climate [edit]:in his Second Review, had asked the editor to “insist” that we present the “most likely” West Antarctica trends, specifically proposing iridgeHere’s what Eric wrote:My recommendation is that the editor insist that results showing the ‘mostly likely’ West Antarctic trends be shown in place of Figure 3. While the written text does acknowledge that the rate of warming in West Antarctica is probably greater than shown, it is the figures that provide the main visual ‘take home message’ that most readers will comeaway with. I am not suggesting here that kgnd = 5 will necessarily provide the best estimate, as I had thought was implied in the earlier version of the text. Perhaps, as the authors suggest, kgnd should not be used at all, but the results from the ‘iridge’ infilling should be used instead.I know what the word perhaps means he’s leaving it up to the authors to decide, and the two sentences I’ve emphasized can be read as his favoring kgnd, while being willing to accept that maybe the *authors* are correct that iridge infilling is better.I’m not seeing a whole lot of honesty, here, on RyanO’s part.

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