Going To Motive - Auditions For A New Play On "Clean Coal," Patriotism, And Free Trade

old_time_crowd.jpgIt's easy to see the motivations of a few high profile corporations that, for years, backed the argument that climate science was 'highly uncertain.' Some of these same companies are now acting as if the significance of the human contribution to climate forcing is 'uncertain' (the highly modifier seems to have dropped off). Or that financial burdens of a government-led program will be "onerous". These few advocacy 'signalers' distract us from the fact that the majority of companies have no public climate position whatsoever. Plenty of execs haven't given it a thought. Now that the USA seems prospectively open to serious climate policy discussions for the future, it's important to seriously contemplate the motivations of "no opinion" elected officials, corporations, and citizen groups. Yes, some of the goings-on are still laughable, like the famously climate science obfuscating company Exxon-Mobile, indicating they've 'been with the program' all along, to grab a seat at the public policy planning table. Change is coming, however; and patriotism, populism, and emotion will increasingly matter when Climate is on the docket. Auditions taken below.The 19'th Century metaphor for the provocation of a local political outrage was "goring someone's ox" - - describing the pandemonium that followed when one beast of burden rips the neighboring wagon's oxen. Road-rage is a more appropriate simile for the political outrage brewing over public policy to manage climate risk. For whom does the outrage potential most rapidly build? What provocations will unleash the climate rage?

The elected official:- Imagine yourself an elected official from a major coal producing state, or a state whose industries are highly dependent on natural gas. Your constituents are worried that anything done to increase the price of coal fired electricity will drive up the price of natural gas - an essential feedstock for the petrochemical value chain - and cut back good paying mining and utility jobs (the ones that can't be outsourced). Your dreams resonate with "environmentalist" claims that the businesses your constituents and campaign donors have depended for almost a century are destroying the earth. Easy to fantasize, then, that "Clean Coal" offers a patriotic stent which, unlike any renewable energy solution you've heard of, suggests it can unblock in one fell high-tech swoop the terroristic threats clogging our oil-gushing economic artery. How shall patriotism lead us forward, you wonder: for security's sake; for climate's sake; or, for both?

Big vehicle owners:- Hundreds of thousands are driving around in US $60,000 dollar SUVs that they're still paying down. Knowing that no one would ever buy these behemoths used, should gas prices to continue to climb dramatically, all are willing converts to the magical thinking preached by the Coal-To-Liquid lobbyists. We should add that this Big Vehicle category includes the US Air Force brass.

Libertarians and traditional conservatives:- For those intensely mistrusting of "big government", the idea of the next US President aggressively pushing the management of climate change is a very fearful prospect. The more the Federal policy intervenes, the greater the likelihood that push-back occurs.

Isolationists:- That the IPCC is a United Nations sanctioned body is extremely provocative for those of us living with conspiracy theories about world government. Even the suggestion that the UN might dictate how US citizens may go about their daily lives is a call to intellectual arms.

Green Luddites:- For whom no long term, advanced technological solution is acceptable. You know who you are.

To achieve positive change, is it necessary for Congressional leaders to go belly to belly with the CTL patriots, to be nose to nose with Ludd's intellectual heirs, to make lane changes with luxury SUV owners, - not to mention over the shoulder glances for world government conspiracy theorists? Probably yes.

Lets suppose that a Federal regulatory mandate, some type of a "cap" on carbon, or even a tax on carbon intensive fuels, is a keystone for aggressive climate management. What would possibly motivate multiple industry sectors to support the top-down regulatory approach? A key question, because without industry support, it's not going to happen.

If US history can be a guide, the entrepreneurial experimentation of the States and several prominently green municipalities is likely to provoke a Federal mandate to level the playing field. Recently focused on limiting the abilities of States to regulate C02 emissions or improve the efficiencies of vehicles, a second stage of Federal activity will be focused on normalizing these prototypes, as called for by industry. Congress will have its hand forced, in other words.

At the next level up, the global economy struggles with the same types of discontinuities. Climate mitigation scheme as trade barrier goes to motive. That's the card to keep our eyes on.

For clarity of vision, and a grounded, positive message to stay on when the auditions start, we leave you with a cluster of quotes from Dan Kammen, founding director of the Berkely CA-based Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

"Monopolies are bad. There is no economic leader and never will be," he says. "If we killed off all the oil executives and replaced them with photovoltaic executives, they'd hold on to their own monopoly. We need a diverse low-carbon economy."

"I'm aggressively undecided, he says about nukes. "It is low-carbon, but it doesn't play fair." The industry can't seem to live without huge subsidies and there, no doubt, will be an accident sometime. But as a health threat, he doesn't see nuclear posing anywhere near the illness and death rate that results from lung disease when coal is burned for power.

Biofuels "really are an option. We could make a dent," he says, in liquid fossil fuel. However, Kammen cautions that the choice is "doing it in a way so it doesn't steal nutrition from the poor." He advocates biofuels as a way to break the chain of farmers' poverty in underdeveloped countries. "It's not a product like strawberries where if you don't sell it this week it rots. Biofuels can be stored." And with that storage potential, the market to pay farmers expands.

Dan Kammen excerpts are Via:: California Energy Circuit.

Image credit: Houdini Tribute, crowd scene.

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