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Global Warming and the Campaign Trail: A Call for Political Realism

The Intersection
By Chris Mooney
Jan 11, 2008 3:15 AMNov 5, 2019 10:20 AM


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In my latest DeSmogBlog item, I try to explain the gap between what science says we need to do to stabilize the climate system, and what U.S. politics is currently capable of:

On the one hand, we've now got people like Bill McKibben and James Hansen talking as if 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 was the actual tipping climatic point. Which means we've already passed it, and completely radical changes will be necessary if we're to save the planet. But over in the U.S. Congress, right now we can't even pass Lieberman-Warner, a cap-and-trade bill that would reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by 70 percent by 2050, but which many environmentalists consider far too weak--certainly much weaker than what scientists like Hansen would prescribe. Somewhere in between Lieberman-Warner and McKibben-Hansen, meanwhile, we find many of the Democratic candidates who take global warming very seriously, including Barack Obama. In their policy plans, these Democrats have outlined positions that cannot, at least at the present moment, get through Congress, like the following: 80 percent carbon dioxide reductions by 2050, 100 percent auctions of the initial cap-and-trade permits, etcetera. In other words: There's a big gap between what science says the climate needs, and what politics can presently deliver. Some Democrats are promising big--far beyond what's currently possible politically--and yet even they may not be aiming high enough in a scientific sense. And so of course the Democrats, to say nothing of the Republicans, have some weak spots on the issue.

So what should we do in this situation? Well, we definitely shouldn't attack candidates from the left for not going far enough, so long as they're candidates who take the issue seriously. Rather, these are the candidates we ought to be trying to get elected--and attacking them makes little sense. Get them in office--and then let the horse trading begin over what climate bill becomes law in 2009. But for now, forget the fine details of climate proposals, and pick a candidate who's electable and will actually start the arduous process of saving the planet. That's my $ .02, anyway.

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