Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: questions for Tom Steyer


Ryan Lizza writes a terrific dissection in the New Yorker of the struggle to block the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The piece revolves around what I've always wondered: can this fight serve as a political pivot point to build a broad-based people's movement for action against global warming? Is it the right fight? Why and why not? If those are your questions too, read it.

Central to this struggle has been the involvement of California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. Lizza presents an interesting profile of this guy who can raise money for Obama by inviting guests to a fundraiser while offering them an opportunity to jack up the Prez about climate change.

Lizza elicited this in answer to why Steyer has thrown himself into the cause:

“In every generation, there’s an overwhelming issue that people may not recognize at the time, but that becomes the issue that is the measure of what you did,” he said. “In World War Two, if you look back, everybody was measured by what they said in the thirties and what they did in the forties. Charles Lindbergh was the biggest hero in the United States of America, and he went wrong on the biggest issue of the day, and that was the end of him. Look back to where people came out on civil rights in the fifties and sixties: maybe you were right about economic policy then, but, if you blew it on the big issue, then that’s the measure.” Climate change, Steyer insisted, “is the issue we’ll get measured by as a country and a generation. If we blow this, it will be because we were very focussed on the short term, on our pocketbooks, and we had no broader sense of what we were trying to do and what we were trying to pass on.”

That's a politician's answer and a good one. We need climate change politicians; people whose primary issue is human-caused global warming. Steyer wants a political office, probably to succeed Diane Feinstein or Gov. Jerry Brown. I can't see him going for any lower platform. Politically inexperienced California billionaires have a lousy record of success when they try to jump to the top of the heap, but this one seems to be building a sort of base.

So Mr. Steyer -- if you want me to vote for you when your time comes, I'll be looking to hear your answers to a couple of questions. I completely agree that our response to climate change is the issue on which our society will be judged, but our response comes enmeshed with other very broad, deeply unsettling, realities that a serious politician should address.
  • How do we make carbon emission reductions and warming mitigation measures a means of building a more equitable economy and society? The state and nation need money from somewhere, presumably those who have it, who have profited from a polluting, inequitable system. That's tough, but essential. And having acquired the cash to do the work, how do we use it so that wrenching economic change is more beneficial than harmful to the entire population, not just a boon to a limited class of the masters of new technologies?
  • How do we make an equitable response to climate change that is global? Anyone paying attention knows this isn't something that can be solved by one state or one nation. That's sort of the point here. But concurrently, we're living the reality that the United States isn't what it was, momentarily in the last century, undisputed top world empire. That's on balance a good thing for the world; humans need to organize ourselves less through such systems of dominance. But declining US preeminence comes with issues: we believe the country is broke; our actions are often unimaginative, held back by legacy inefficiencies, the opposite of creative or bold. Rising empires innovate; declining ones stagnate. But if we are to prevent the worst of climate change, somehow the US has to do its part, as well as get out of the way when appropriate. How to navigate this circumstance?
I'm not claiming I know the answer to these questions -- but I do think they are the right ones to be asking politicians seeking high office for whom climate change is the central agenda.

How about it, Mr. Steyer? Will we get a campaign from you that touches on these facts? Now that would be bold.

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