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With the mighty fracas over Lindsey Graham (R-SC) bailing on the climate bill, analysis keeps pouring in over what went wrong. Graham pulled support from the bill after Reid said immigration reform was coming first on the Senate agenda. Over at Grist, Larry Shapiro has a piece that attempts to explain why the idea of immigration reform is getting more traction than clean energy reform. He argues there's a huge movement that's already been mobilized for pro-immigration reform; one that makes addressing it more valuable for Democratic political prospects than addressing climate change is. He argues greens should take notes from the more-powerful immigration reform movement. Is that right?Well, Shapiro has a point -- the movement backing immigration reform is probably bigger and more active a voting bloc than those rallying strictly for green issues. There are far more single issue voters for immigration issues than climate issues, that much is certain. Shapiro writes:
There is actually a social movement associated with immigration issues. Perhaps even two movements -- one on each side. I don't think those of us focused on climate issues have anything similar that we can point to.But that's not quite true -- there is indeed a social movement for green issues (look at 350.org, mountaintop removal mining protesters, Greenpeace, et al). And there are certainly environmentalists who wouldn't vote for a candidate if he had a lousy environmental record. It's just that the green movement not as focused, not as passionate over a large scale, and single-issue specific as the pro-immigration movement is.
But I think that's going to be very tough to change, until people see fighting climate change as in their immediate self interest. Much of the fervor in the immigration reform movement is generated because immigration reform is, well, in the movement's member's immediate self interest. And that's great -- people should mobilize to advocate for policies that directly effect them and their families.
It's also why, distressingly, climate change is a harder issue to rally large scale support around: its impacts aren't always immediately clear, and it is harder to sustain passionate supporters behind a seemingly abstract goal of preserving a livable climate for the world.
So while Shapiro argues that environmentalists shouldn't complain about immigration being more of a priority, and instead learn how to get heard by the immigration reformers' example, I think that's overly optimistic thinking. Yes, we need to start putting more emphasis on the grass roots -- but the US has a moral imperative to pass climate policy for the world's benefit (melodramatic, maybe, but essentially correct, methinks). And just because it's not the issue du jour in the news cycle, and the coal and oil protesters aren't out in force, doesn't mean our legislators shouldn't pass up an opportunity to tackle what is perhaps the greatest challenge we face.