My Rolling Stone interview, August 5 Issue
Eric Pooley, author of The Climate War, on Obama’s failure to cap carbon pollution.
What has Obama done to get climate legislation passed?
We’re just not seeing from the president what we need to see if he’s serious about passing a climate bill. When it comes to a cap on carbon pollution – the hardest and most important piece of the battle – they’ve ducked every opportunity to fight. The White House has taken what it calls a “stealth strategy.” They felt that, because of the recession, you’re better off not talking about the climate bill too much – you let Congress take care of the policy details.
So what’s wrong with that approach?
Two things. First is the notion that if the president isn’t talking about it, then opponents won’t talk about it either. In fact, as we know, they scream bloody murder at every turn. By keeping the president out of it, by not even dusting off his megaphone, you’re ceding the battleground to the other side. Second is the notion that the Senate can take care of the details. Left to its own devices, the Senate will pass some kind of feel-good measure that may improve things around the margins but won’t fundamentally tackle the real threat.
Can’t Harry Reid twist some arms and get it done?
Reid has been saying for a year that he can’t herd these cats. He is fighting for his political life in Nevada, so he can’t provide the adult supervision that’s needed. He’s made no bones about the fact that he needs help to get this done – he’s actually pleaded with the White House to step in.
Isn’t there anyone else who can rally the troops on this?
No. If the president is not the leader of this fight, then the climate action team is not going to win. The other players are necessary but not sufficient. Gore’s done an extraordinary amount to move this issue along, but he can’t take it where it needs to go single-handedly.
So is there any hope left for curbing climate pollution?
The only option that seems halfway viable at this point – one that actually includes a cap on carbon of any kind – is the idea of capping the utility sector. If we could get that done this year, that would be a great step. It’s woefully inadequate compared to what needs to be done, but it would be a significant first step.
A great, woefully inadequate step?
You need to take a step, because you need to shut up the Chicken Littles. You need to prove that we can constrain our carbon without destroying our economy. I want to go to Virginia this weekend to see my mom, but I won’t get there unless I start. The journey has to begin somewhere.
What would it take to change the game at this point?
We’re past the point where articulating principles is enough. If there’s any chance for a climate bill at this late date, we need Obama to say specifically what he’s for. He has to try to solve the policy obstacles, and then run the political operation needed to get the votes. It’s only going to get harder as we get closer to the midterm elections. If you don’t put down a marker and start organizing around that, you’ll never get there.