How real is “political reality”?

April 16, 2014

With each new IPCC report, we find ourselves a little further out in the open water between the urgency of the climate crisis and the weakness of our response. But every time I think we’ve drifted hopelessly far from reality’s shore, Elizabeth Kolbert throws out a tether, like her terrific New Yorker piece making the case for a carbon tax. The crazier things get, the saner she sounds. She quotes F. Sherwood Rowland, who first diagnosed the threat to the ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbons:pr 4

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

And in yesterday’s New York Times, Coral Davenport diagnoses — deadpan, Grey Ladylike — why Congress stands around and waits now:

“…[E]fforts to tackle climate change have repeatedly collided with political reality in Washington, where some Republicans question the underlying science of global warming and lawmakers’ ties to the fossil fuel industry have made them resistant to change. The rise of the Tea Party in recent years has also made a tax increase unlikely.”

Political reality,” indeed….not to be confused with plain old, unadulterated, physical, non-negotiable reality.  I know we can’t wish it away, but perhaps, as a tribute to the IPCC, we could stop dignifying it by calling it “reality” at all, or at least knock it down a peg with quotation marks.

Yes, yes, I know it IS “political reality” and we have to deal with it. And I suppose “political” mitigates some of the legitimacy that “reality” might otherwise imply.

But still, it devalues the currency to suggest there’s any respectable form of “reality” that accounts for how our political institutions are caving to the fossil fuel industry.  Maybe we should reserve the unyielding quality of “reality” for describing what’s physically true, rather than for our self-reinforcing judgments about what is and isn’t politically possible.  The former won’t budge, so the latter will have to.

Bold action is urgently needed.

Solutions are available and affordable.

We know what we have to do to unleash them.

Try explaining to your grandkids that there was some other “reality” that trumped those three. How real will it seem to them, compared to what they’re up against?


BC motto: “Splendour without diminishment.*” BC policy: No free carbon dumping

March 12, 2014

The price of gasoline should be higher.  There, I said it.

I will be shunned (again) by the school of political “pragmatists” who believe we must never ask anyone to do anything hard about climate disruption.  But everyone who’s thinking in practical terms about climate solutions knows it’s true.

We’re just not going to do climate solutions right, at scale, in a market economy as long as the exorbitant costs of climate disruption remain external to the price of fossil fuels — that is, as long as we keep foisting those costs off on our kids and grandkids.

Freeloading is not good economics, and it’s even worse ancestoring.  It’s particularly galling when it poses as an answer to poverty, since it is the world’s poor who do the least to cause climate disruption and are slammed hardest by its consequences.

And remember, the point of higher fossil fuel prices is not to pay for more fossil fuels.  On the contrary, it’s to avoid them altogether.  It’s to free ourselves from their lethal grip….Sightline bc carbon tax chart

This graph shows how British Columbia’s carbon tax is helping the province do just that.  Six years in to the BC carbon tax experience, Alan Durning and Yoram Bauman are reviewing the promise, pitfalls, and progress to date (having planted the seeds in the first place).  Read the first installment of their analysis here, and sign up for the whole series while you’re at the Sightline site.  Heck, sign up for everything; their stuff is the best.

Climate solutions are many, varied, and complex.  But this part is super simple:  without responsible limits on climate pollution and an end to free carbon dumping, we’re not going to get those solutions done well and soon enough.

It’s time.

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* No.  Seriously.  That’s the translation of:  Splendor sine occasu