Energy Quest: Low Blows in US Chamber of Commerce as Revkin Gets Real
When I wrote earlier this year about major companies leaving the US Chamber of Commerce because of that body’s ‘obstructive attitude’ to climate change, I believed this was a clear sign of things to come. My reasoning is simple (as even my detractors will confirm): profit means more than ideology.
When ideologues exert great influence at the national level of the US Chamber, and do so out of commitment to a Republican agenda, the policies can end up being little more than sticks with which to beat the Obama administration (like the democrats needed help). Apparently, climate change is one stick too many – a breakaway group of local chambers has formed a coalition called the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) who plan to lobby Congress, urging them to implement more, and more effective, measures to address climate and energy issues. You can read the full story on Grist; how, in a letter send out to all local Chambers, the national body has attempted to smear CICE.
On the same day, I got a tip from fellow-traveller Hengist McStone about a podcast featuring NYT’s Dot Earth climate blogger Andrew Revkin – as Hengist reminded me, he’s the nearest thing to Monbiot they have over there. He was discussing the politics of climate legislation. When asked where the US is going next – after the failure of cap and trade – he started to talk more about energy imperatives than climate change, suggesting that by shifting the emphasis it would be possible to “go round the road block of divergent public feelings about global warming”, refocusing attention on what he called an ‘Energy Quest’, which I rather liked (I’ll like it even more if Sigourney Weaver’s in it!).
An energy quest is something the political right cannot take issue with, not because they wouldn’t try, but because significant factions are forming within the conservative sphere that would oppose the obstructionists. Those for whom ideology is paramount – like the US Chamber of Commerce – will find their position undermined quite rapidly if they effectively lobby to constrain the opportunities for their own members, through energy shortages or stiff price hikes, both of which are likely when demand for oil exceeds supply of economically extracted crude. Indeed, the Lloyds, ISS (Chatham House): Sustainable Energy Security Report released in July 2010 carried warnings about failure to invest in energy alternatives, the same report that suggested oil might reach $200 a barrel – the subject of my previous post.
(As an aside, I noticed looking back over my posts of the last year a gradual shift in emphasis, away from climate change, and towards commercial energy issues).
I believe the climate change debate can never be settled. There will be no point at which the electorate will support climate change legislation if it means a reduction in the standard of living. Such reductions, to be acceptable, need to be externalised – there has to be a scapegoat. Obviously, it’s not very productive to blame a group or nation. Better to blame something fatalistic: the end of cheap crude oil.
Make no mistake. There’s a big invoice on its way and everyone in the west is going to contribute, like it or not. Afterwards, we’ll all be that bit poorer (most of us, anyway) and we’ll be obliged to live more modestly, within not only our own means, but that of the Earth. That transition will be painful but governments must act now, and act decisively – else the pain will be more intense, more sustained, and a damn sight more expensive, than it needed to be.
Our leaders will need to raise money, and they will need political cover when they screw up, which they certainly will. If we call our next steps ‘climate change mitigation’ there will be endless riots, martial law and electoral anarchy. If we call it an ‘energy quest’, and industry, commerce, pension funds, insurance companies and the US Chamber of Commerce – if it can just wake its stupid self up – all support it vociferously, the government will take notice. Politicians give only the deference to public opinion that the electoral cycle demands. To industry , to commerce and finance, they pay a great deal more attention and their compliance is somewhat easier to obtain, because you can’t run a country on votes. For that, you need money.