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Amid Turbulence A Path For Climate Action

November 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

In the past week, two of the prominent names in American politics and business appeared to reach consistent conclusions about governing, technology, and the warming climate.

On Friday, Karl Rove told an audience of natural gas developers in Texas that “climate is gone” as a Congressional issue. And this week, in a Rolling Stone interview, Bill Gates said it will take a breath-taking leap in innovation to meet rising global energy demand and still cut climate-changing pollution. “To have the kind of reliable energy we expect and to have it be cheaper and zero carbon,” said the Microsoft chairman, “we need to pursue every available path to achieve a really big breakthrough.”

Rove and Gates view the crisis from alternate sides of the political spectrum, of course. But in succinctly describing the problem they also indirectly set out a path for climate activism that involves much greater grassroots agitation to win elections, and higher levels of publicly-funded support for clean energy research and development.

Tactics
Both facets of that tactical strategy are within reach. In Washington, the results of the election, while damaging, also left enough sympathetic lawmakers in place to make some progress on the clean energy investment front. Democratic lawmakers intent on making a difference on climate and energy retained their chairmanships in the Senate. And of the 56 members of the Congressional Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, just seven House and one Senate member lost their bids for reelection. “It should be clear,” said Sam Ricketts, the coalition’s executive director, “that a vote for cap and trade and ardent support for a cleaner environment were not the target of voter anger that many opposed to these policies might lead you to believe.”

In addition, the most important and telling vote for climate action in the country was the strong majority result to enforce the emissions reduction and energy efficiency goals of AB32, California’s climate law. In a game changing marriage of superior campaign financing, message development, and grassroots activism, climate advocates and clean energy venture capitalists outspent, out-organized, and soundly beat the oil industry in a crucial vote.

A New Opening
Climate activists in and outside Washington, who nearly a year ago anticipated a big diplomatic advance in Copenhagen, are justifiably worn by the reverse momentum in the 11 months since. But in the past week, my conversations around the U.S. indicate a resolve among activists to dig deeper and be prepared for a new opening.

That could come sooner than any of us think.
No matter how tightly the fossil fuel industry wraps itself around lawmakers in state capitols and on Capitol Hill, there is still the one motivating electoral factor it cannot control – the American response to rising gasoline prices. The global knife edge that describes the tightening supplies and increasing demand for oil will inevitably tip toward $4-a- gallon gas or higher, say energy industry analysts. When that happens, perhaps in the next year, climate activists need to be ready to identify the culprits who blocked the cheaper and cleaner alternatives and the jobs, prosperity, and safety they would have produced.

Keith Schneider, a journalist and producer, is senior writer for the U.S. Climate Action Network. Reach him at kschneider@climatenetwork.org

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