Would You Trade the Endangered Species Act for a Clean Energy Revolution?


Photo credit: langalex via Flickr/BY-SA

We need to do something. Thus far, the legislative strategy that Democrats have used to advance climate policy has been disastrous. Where other major economies around the world are either passing laws to reign in carbon emissions (the EU) or dumping truckloads of cash into clean energy development (China), the US continues to have its head in the sand. Obama tried offering expanded nuclear power and more offshore drilling (the timing of each was horrendous) in exchange for some cooperation on the climate front, but ended up with nothing to show for it. So where do we go from here? Is it time to get more creative? Would you, for instance, be willing to compromise seminal environmental protections like the Endangered Species Act if it would usher in a clean energy boom?Dave Roberts and Alexis Madrigal have an ongoing discussion about the history of green technology and clean power over at Grist (the whole thing is worth reading), and today, they hit on the aforementioned subject. From the dialogue:

Alexis Madrigal: ...it might be worth trading some of the landmark '60s environmental legislation for stronger support for green technology. The way the Endangered Species Act works right now is sometimes counterproductive. It rests on this odd structure of one animal standing in for whole ecosystems, at a local level, preventing changes we might need to prevent global-scale environmental change ... I know we both have our fears about, if we were to do this, whether the Democrats would give away the Endangered Species Act and not get anything in return.

Dave Roberts: That would be in keeping with their recent strategery.

AM: Assuming you had someone who truly could cut a deal for, basically, nuclear-R&D-from-1950-to-1975-style; support from the government, that seems to me like it would be a worthy trade. Given what it looks like in Congress right now, if we want to make a big move on green technology, something big has got to change. I don't think support for nuclear power and offshore drilling are going to get it done, obviously.

Now, I have next to no confidence that such a deal could even be brokered in good faith, but it's interesting indeed to consider. Because the truth is, it's go time now -- we haven't put a dent in carbon emissions, and the concentration of everyone's favorite greenhouse gas is already far above what scientists say is safe. And it's climbing every year. So I'll pare a little bit of the wonky political horse-trade talk away and get to the fundamental question lurking about here:

Are we willing to put certain species at risk in order to mobilize the large-scale clean energy boom that we're going to need if we're going to get ourselves out of this mess? Do we bowl over endangered species in desert habitats in order to get solar panels laid out? Do we let Republicans take advantage of rescinded environmental controls that are perhaps secondary to the health of our planet's climate?

Big questions all, and ones that require much too much thinking for a Friday -- but still. Interesting stuff.

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Tags: Clean Energy | Global Climate Change | Green Jobs

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