Dick Polman: Standing up to the climate deniers
If there’s anything the flat-earth knuckleheads hate more than science, it’s a president who is poised to act on the basis of that science. And executive action is imminent.
Roughly two weeks from no, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency will crack down on the power plants that spew carbon. Their goal is to actually do something about manmade climate change warming, by targeting America’s top source of greenhouse gases. Makes sense to me. At a time when 97 percent of scientists say that humans bear major responsibility for melting glaciers, rising seas, increased coastal flooding, and worsening storms, our top elected leader intends to act.
The power plant crackdown will be historic, and, ideally, Congress would’ve signed off on it. But because Congress has predictably burned its bridges — thanks to right-wing ideologues, politicians in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and terrified red-state Democrats up for re-election — Obama rightly decided that executive action was the only way forward.
Heck, somebody in public office has to govern in the national interest.
No other issue so thoroughly exposes the fatuous, blinkered nature of domestic politics as it is practiced today. Politics is all about winning the next election. It’s focused like a laser on the short-term; even worse, the climate change dialogue is distorted by Koch brothers cash and the conservative infauxtainment complex (which in turn nurtures the trolls).
Back in March, House Republicans voted to block the imminent power plant crackdown (a meaningless gesture, as usual), calling it “one of the most extreme regulations of the Obama administration.” Meanwhile, red-state Democratic senatorial candidates, like Mark Begich and Alison Lundergan Grimes, have distanced themselves from crackdown. Indeed, as political analyst Ronald Brownstein wittily puts it, “Miami will likely be underwater before the Senate can muster enough votes to meaningfully confront climate change.”
So Obama’s only choice was to circumvent the legislative stalemate, to ignore the political exigencies of the next election and think long-term.
And it’s not just about us. China and America are the globe’s top carbon polluters, but in 2012 they agreed, along with other nations, to negotiate a new international climate change treaty by 2015. We’ll have more credibility in the negotiations — more ability to persuade other nations to crack down on carbon — once we can demonstrate that we’re working to do that at home.
This summer, prepare for the predictable loony rhetoric about how Obama is behaving like a tyrant or whatever, along with lawsuits from right-wing legal eagles who claim that the EPA’s action is unconstitutional.
But the Supreme Court, by a 6-2 vote, signaled in April that the agency (created in 1970, in a law signed by Republican Richard Nixon) has wide latitude to curb air pollution. The court OK’d an EPA rule that requires coal plants to curb smog and soot emissions that drift across state lines.
Justice Scalia dissented, declaring in one fabulous passage that the EPA smog rule sounds like “a Marxist concept,” and we’ll surely hear that kind of rhetoric when the climate change crackdown is announced.
We’ll also hear a lot about its dire “job-killing” potential — from the very private enterprise enthusiasts who usually extol the dynamic adaptability of the private sector.
So let ’em all rail; it’s the price we have to pay for progress. And, for Democrats in particular, it’s worth losing a few 2014 elections if it helps us win the future. Or at least take some responsibility for it.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.