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The US Government Cannot Help the Climate

Michael Tobis's picture
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  • Sep 26, 2011 12:56 pm GMT
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Jeff Sachs recommends an informal international mostly academic collaboration to come up with actual options and get around the noise-making. He points out that expectations of leadership from the US government are unrealistic in the near future.

Long (over an hour). Intro lasts about four minutes.

h/t Rust Never Sleeps

JEFF SACHS from HUCE on Vimeo.

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David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Sep 28, 2011

In Sach’s world, the American population is majority in favor of the kind of climate action Sachs favors, whatever exactly that is, and what a politician should do is explain to Americans that he (she) is going to implement this solution he knows they want preferably by starting with telling them what it is.  He (she) will be elected and get to implement it.   It doesn’t sound like a coherent view of the political possibilities. 

The powerful fossil fuel vested interests he denounces who have stopped all action so far would have been and will be defeated by a politician who did this.  

Maybe he should get into politics and show us how. 

He seems to think the “serious” thinkers haven’t thought out a basic plan to replace the world’s energy infrastructure with a decarbonized one, and hence, public support for decarbonizing civilization has not been as strong as it might have been.  Where has he been?   Does he live on Mars?  

It seems to me you’ve got to be fairly non-serious in some aspect of your mind if you are like Sachs and you don’t see much in the way of possibilities in nuclear, if you doubt the feasibility of carbon capture and Desertec is your favorite plan.  When Gore was trying to sell Desertec he left out all mention of what it will cost.  In support of his solar dream, Gore had to airbrush the word “nuclear” out when he republished the McKinsey cost mitigation chart.  If he left that one word in, people would have seen that McKinsey thinks nukes are cheaper than carbon capture, solar and wind.  

 Sachs dumps on cap and trade, and blames Clinton and the US for imposing it on the EU, as if they could have legislated an EU wide carbon tax.  

But it was interesting to hear some of what he had to say.  

Quoting from Sach’s uplifting commentary:  “We have a political condition in Washington that is frightening on every dimension….  We have an assault on science, we have an assault on policy.  We have a mindlessness that somehow the solutions to our energy problems are only to be found in offshore oil, or in gas shale, or in Alaska, without a glimmer of honest responsibility about the real issues involved in discussing energy policy and its implications.”  Hear hear.  

On the political power fossil fuel interests have:  “If Texas was still part of Mexico, we would have a climate change policy….”  Geez.  Maybe the next time Perry threatens that Texans might secede we should help them leave.  

On the climate political leadership of Clinton and Obama:  “No President since George Herbert Walker Bush Sr signed the UN Framework Convention and actually sent it for ratification has honestly taken on this issue.  Not Clinton, not Bush Jr., not Obama.  Because they’re scared of the interests.” 

I might say the public attitude on “environment” issues was different back when the Rio Summit was held, which allowed politicians of whatever stripe to take action, or forced them to, depending on their personal preferences.  There were polls in 1990 that showed “environment”, all too briefly, “top of mind” when it came to selecting who to vote for, in the minds of the electorate in Canada where I lived at the time.  This kind of technical jargon means something to politicians.  Sachs should study it a bit.  

I liked his attack back position on Climategate:  “When we’re attacked as scientists or academics we take it very seriously.  We launch an investigation to investigate our own behavior.  Maybe six of them.  Maybe eight of them.  Maybe three for East Anglia, maybe two for Penn State…”  He knew who to blame:  “That’s the Wall Street Journal and Fox News.  And they spent two years having a joke.  Which is writing every day that climate sceince is a hoax, that climate scientists are money grubbing grant seeking liars engaged in a global conspiracy to get rich on NSF grants.  … And they’re playing games with you and with me.  Because we responded with a year and half of careful internal handwringing, rather than with accusations to them that they are the phoniest PR fronts for Murdoch’s oil investments and for David Koch’s oil investments, and for Exxon-Mobil which has been playing this game for twenty years.  And we didn’t hit back with the truth.  We hit back with the anguish”  

Sachs denounced Washington’s checks and balances politics:  “…everything was viewed as a short term tactic, how can we get Waxman-Markey through.  [ Had cap and trade passed ] “it would at best be like the Health Care situation where we have some step forward perhaps, but in a complete morass of political division and instability and lack of sustainability of the policy itself”  

He might have mentioned some alternate political system, such as the one in the UK, where if you get elected on a high tide of votes such as Obama and the Democratic Party floated into Washington on, you get to implement your policy for five years.  The opposition can’t stop you.  Come the next election, they get to elect you or someone else to actually try something else, as opposed to this US system Sachs seems to have spent too much time staring at in disbelief, i.e. Washington.  

 On international climate negotiations.  The US is “useless”, and China “isn’t in a position to lead”.  ?   Except he points out they should.  He’s got a dim view of what everyone else is doing:  “But for most of the countries in the negotiations one doesn’t even know what the negotiations are about.  There aren’t national plans nor the capacity to make them…. …I compare it to a 192 player poker game where everyone is holding blank cards.  And they’re all bluffing with each other.  And you’re trying to figure out what is this game exactly that they are playing.  Because they don’t have anything on the cards.  They don’t know exactly what they’re bluffing on.  But they won’t show their blank cards before someone else doesn’t show their blank cards.  And that’s why we drag on year after year.”

Sachs, on the talk about “doing something” to help poorer nations:  “Hilary Clinton came to Copenhagen [ the second last day ] and said The US supports $100 billion dollars a year for developing countries by 2020, without one word about how why and what mechanism.  Net value?  Zero….  What happened afterwords on an international panel assembled to discuss this the US delegation blocked substantive discussion of financing mechanisms….”  

So what should be done?  Stop listening to Murdoch and Koch.  

(Fine, I’ll get on the phone, I’ll tell everyone in the US to stop doing that.)  

He’s got the Voice of Doom thing down:  “The Climate change has started, its serious, its impacting the world’s food supplies, its impacting the world’s safety, it will accelerate.  And so there is no time for the games now.”  

I just find his idea hard to grasp.  Here he is, in his own words telling us what the next step is now that he’s realized politics can’t produce action just yet:

“There’s a name for this… [he means us, meaning whoever he dreams on to his team I guess] an epistemic community.  We’re several overlapping groups of epistemic communities.  Because we speak the same language, of quantification, of evidence, of engineering which is the universal language and we can start to put real choices in front of the world.  Because the public is hungry for that kind of information.” 

He sees one thing quite clearly:  “There’s no door in Washington to knock on that’s gonna make the difference right now”.  

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