A Response to Bond and D’Sa

Below is a response I’ve written to Patrick Bond’s (and Desmond D’Sa’s) piece on ZNet criticizing my support for the CLEAR Act.

Here’s that piece if you haven’t seen it: http://www.zcommunications.org/climate-justice-opportunities-after-us-carbon-market-and-legislative-crashes-by-patrick-bond

Ted Glick, April 5, 2010

Patrick Bond and Desmond D’Sa have written an article, the latest in a series of back and forth’s between climate justice activists mainly in the U.S. about strategy and tactics. It has been mainly U.S. activists because a major focus of the debate has been on what is happening—or not happening—within the U.S. Senate.

Bond and D’Sa expand upon arguments Bond has been making on email lists. He has been arguing that the only thing that activists should be doing is “movement-building,” “directly confronting the largest emitters, their financiers and their regulators.” In his and D’Sa’s view, “national legislative campaigning is futile given the prevailing balance of forces.”

They are critical of the CLEAR Act, introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins, for many good reasons. Bond certainly knows from our past interactions that I’m in no way uncritical of that legislation. There is absolutely no question that, in total, it is not the kind of legislation either of us would write.

Bond and D’Sa say that the reason I believe we should give critical support to the CLEAR Act is because our movement “cannot win everything at once” and, quoting Wallerstein, the “social transformation [we] are seeking” will be “a continuous process, one continually hard-fought.” They go on to say that the question is whether CLEAR “drives us towards climate transformation, or puts us in neutral or reverse.”

That actually is the question, the key question. This is where we have one of our most fundamental differences. The other fundamental difference is over whether or not it matters that, when it comes to the climate issue, there are climate tipping points that, if passed, will make it extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to prevent full-out, world-wide climate catastrophe.

Why do I believe that the CLEAR Act can move us forward toward the much stronger legislation, and the transformative social and economic changes, that are essential if we are going to have a chance of solving this existential crisis? There are five main reasons:

-It puts a price on carbon. If it was passed in its current form, without any strengthening, as much as $126 billion could be paid at auction by the U.S.-based fossil fuel industry in the first year of the program, 2012. For the United States government to impose a cost like that on oil, coal and gas companies is no small thing. And over time this maximum amount they need to pay will go up; by 2020 it could be as high as $180 billion.

-There are no offsets. The fossil fuel industry must pay up to get those emissions permits. They can’t substitute an offset project elsewhere in the world for those permits.

-Very importantly, there is a provision that allows for a tightening of the too-weak cap relatively easily, with no filibuster requiring 60 votes allowed. Instead, the President can propose a change to the cap, and a majority vote within a month of his proposal by each house of the U.S. Congress will make that change law. This is a critical provision.

-It returns 75% of the revenue raised by the auction to every U.S. citizen in equal rebates. This means that up to 70% of U.S. families will come out ahead as prices rise for everything which contains fossil fuels. This is an essential component of the bill both to help people economically and to maintain political support for action on climate over the years and decades that it is needed.

-Finally, it is short and understandable. It is 39 pages long. It is transparent and clear. Unlike the House-passed climate bill, it will be possible to see relatively easily if it is working as intended to or not. If it is not, or when U.S. politics changes, the legislation can be strengthened, as is certainly needed, as soon as possible.

There is no question in my mind that all of these reasons outweigh the bill’s weaknesses and make it a bill that should be critically supported, not opposed as Bond has been doing.

A couple of other points:

-I found it ironic that Bond and D’Sa say that I “firmly dispute” the view that “carbon markets are a destructive distraction” and then, further along, they approvingly quote Senator Cantwell, co-sponsor of the CLEAR Act, for her statement that cap and trade was “discredited by the Wall Street crisis, the Enron scandal and the rocky start to a carbon credits trading system in Europe that has been subject to dizzying price fluctuations and widespread fraud.”

I’ve never been a supporter of carbon markets or cap and trade. My preferred approach for federal legislation is a strong tax/fee and dividend. Unfortunately, there’s no such legislation in the U.S. Senate right now. That’s why I support the CLEAR Act.

-Given the reality of climate tipping points, the absolute urgency of this crisis, I completely disagree with Bond/D’Sa’s view that “national legislative campaigning is futile given the prevailing balance of forces.”

Based on what Bond has written in emails during this debate, he seems to believe that there’s little we can do about the tipping points because the problem is the system, capitalism, and the only thing that we should be doing is to build a radical movement to replace that system with a much better one. Bond and D’Sa say explicitly that we shouldn’t have anything to do at all with “the swamp of US congressional parameters” until radical “legislation emerges and power relations change.”

I’m all for replacing this system with another one, have been and have been working to bring that about for over 42 years. But I think those kinds of changes aren’t about to happen in the next 1-2-5 or so years, and if nothing is done by the U.S. Congress over that period of time, we and many of our sister and brother species here on planet Earth are essentially cooked.

We can’t allow our ideological and personal commitments to the struggle for a very different kind of world, different than the violent and unjust, corporate-dominated one we are living within today, to blind us to the fact that there are lots of people—Al Gore is one example—who are in no way radicals, who are even capitalists, who get it on the need for pretty radical changes in the way we get our energy. Gore has called for a shift to a 100% clean-energy-based electrical system within 10 years. Patrick and Desmond, are you saying that we shouldn’t work with someone like him?