The next step in US climate action is predetermined. The trajectory stands out like contrails across the sky.
First noted in the late 50's, scientific evidence of man-made climate change was largely ignored for almost a half-century. Commensurate with a strengthening scientific consensus in the 1990's, however, the risks of climate change were brought to a much broader audience by Al Gore and James Hanson. Push-back by oil gas and coal interests intensified through the George W. Bush years, and reached a political zenith in this November's midterm election.
As think tank deniers had seemingly lost their tactical strength, the US Chamber of Commerce unilaterally changed the denier strategy, helping convince an entire political party to march into the Valley of Climate Denial. It worked. Cap & Trade has been pronounced DOA; and EPA will almost certainly be threatened with de-funding in the next Congress. In the USA, at least, what comes next?On Defense.
The traditional environmental NGO community is surrounded and quiet. It will remain so until they come up with a new strategy, next year. The green blogosphere is reduced to speculation (me included). As for activism, banner raising on chimneys will do little good now - might look pathetic and be self-defeating.
Climate scientists are organizing a response to having been outfoxed by Fox and the Chamber. It will be defensive in nature. See Brian's post, Climate Scientist: "We Have Failed to Communicate" with the Public (Video)." for an example of the regret felt at losing the PR battle and also 700 Scientists Fight Back Against Climate Change Denying Politicians to see where they're headed.
In the USA, politician-deniers will soon have better control of the legislative and policy processes. This will be much more powerful than having climate strategy originate mainly from lobbyists and think tanks. Any sign of 'running to the center' by the politician-deniers is what you want to watch for.
For a further indication of what's next, we also have to look at the business world, including not just the usual, well enshrined corporate climate leaders.
Keep your eyes on the fraction of the business world which led to the successful Chamber of Commerce strategy change: both national and internationally owned businesses. Businesses owned and managed outside the USA - in nations where political parties are less entrenched in denial - might turn out to be the US environmentalists best friends
Here's a chronology of the last 20 years, outlining the challenge and response scenario that drove the climate change debate.
- Ignore the science.
- Criticize the science.
- Attack scientists.
- Attack those who publicized the scientific consensus
- Criticize proposed energy and climate legislation (by Congress) and policy changes (at USEPA).
- Attack legislators who voted for Cap & Trade and threaten EPA.
- Fund election campaigns of those who will oppose climate action.
If history is any guide, the next step is predetermined. Early in 2011, Republicans will unite with a few "moderate" Democrats to propose a "bipartisan" bill that will offer additional research support for clean coal development, nuclear plant construction, and "geo-engineering" technologies.
Behind the scenes, lobbyists for the aerospace industry and for defense contractors will push to have most of the geo-engineering research money dedicated to schemes that can only be implemented with rockets and satellites. This is positioning for bigger appropriations in 2013. These people think way ahead, and keep the green movement focused on defensive plays.
Environmentalists have a choice now.
Environmental NGOs can be pragmatists and demand a seat at the table, negotiating for support of projects that are more ecologically sensible, like tree planting or iron seeding or roof whitening on mass scale. And ,they can continue to work with enlightened business interests around the world. They're good at that.
Or, the green movement can struggle to hold what they feel is a moral high ground, demanding that emission cut backs be made priority one and nothing else happen until then. If that is the strategy choice, as now seems likely based on comments I get on my posts about geoengineering, the green movement will be made to look like the new 'party of no.' Quotes from the anti-science crew will be read into the Congressional Record and the eyes will roll.
There is always the wild card. Say, within the next year or so, weather-related disaster(s) grab public imagination by the throat and shake it. My advice is never hope for something bad to change peoples minds or get attention. It makes you look like an ambulance chasing opportunist and well might blow politics in the opposite direction from what you hoped.
Example: Lets suppose we have significant additional world crop losses next year from a combination of floods and drought. Food prices everywhere will go up even farther and the politician-deniers then have an opportunity to blame central banking policy or some other trailing indicator to push a political point.