Daphne Wysham: New phase of grassroots activism needed
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re still in Washington, and we’re talking about the Tuesday night election results. And we’re now joined by Daphne Wysham. She works on environmental issues at the Institute for Policy Studies. So thanks for joining us.
DAPHNE WYSHAM, ISTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Thank you for having me.
JAY: So the Republicans have taken over the House, and the mood of the country is weird. What’s this all mean for climate change issues and environmental issues? You have a situation where a lot of Americans over the last two, three years, and apparently in exit polls in this election, don’t even believe there is climate change, never mind feel a sense of urgency about it.
WYSHAM: Yeah. I mean, I think if you were to sum up the outcome of the elections is that we have, essentially, a revved up Republican/Tea Party and a Democratic agenda that doesn’t really represent real change when it comes to climate change, and yet that’s what’s being fought against. And in some cases when—you know, the Tea Party elements, the climate denialists, the people that are punishing those members of Congress who supported cap-and-trade are winning; the ones that are punishing those who voted in favor of cap-and-trade are actually succeeding.
JAY: Now, you were no fan of cap-and-trade anyway. Is it part of the problem is, one, the kind of policies that were presented, people didn’t think they were so effective, and the number two, there didn’t seem to be any sense of urgency about all of this coming from the administration?
WYSHAM: Well, I mean, yeah, absolutely. We were critical of cap-and-trade for not representing the kind of real, lasting change that we needed to make to sufficiently address the climate crisis, and we’re not alone. I mean, some of the leading climate scientists in the world hold the same opinion, such as NASA’s James Hansen, that cap-and-trade with offsets was not the way to go. Now we’re fighting a rearguard battle in states like California that have managed to pass cap-and-trade legislation, where oil company money, out-of-state oil company money, is essentially fueling a proposition, Proposition 23, that was to put on hold AB 32, the California cap-and-trade with offsets bill. In fact—.
JAY: So this is one of the bright spots of tonight’s election?
WYSHAM: Well, bright, bright, and yet—.
JAY: ‘Cause 23 went down.
WYSHAM: Start reading the fine print. Yes, Prop 23 has apparently gone down. That’s what we’re hearing. However, now California’s—the regulatory body that’s actually going to be implementing the cap-and-trade legislation has said, essentially, we’re going to give a free pass to polluters for the next three years. They’ll have—. I mean, it’s essentially a reiteration of what happened under Waxman and Markey, where we’re giving away all these free offsets, free emissions permits, in the interest of making this as cheap and economically viable as possible for California, and at a time of crisis, which is understandable. However, if the end result is not an overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but simply shipping them off to another part of the country or another part of the world, what actually have we achieved other than perhaps raising the price of energy for certain members of—you know, people that are buying electricity from the grid, raising the price of goods that are produced in California, potentially losing some jobs there. Of course, there are some positive sides to AB 32, including the fact that there are incentives for renewable energy. But we could go at this problem differently. And I think, you know, unfortunately what we’re doing is sort of reiterating the same tired mantra of cap-and-trade, cap-and-trade, even though it’s not working at the international level, it hasn’t generated any enthusiasm at the national level, and it’s not resulting in real emissions reductions.
JAY: Now, President Obama, when he ran, linked these two issues, which was the solution to the economic crisis was going to be this big expansion and expenditure in infrastructure, in a new green economy.
JAY: We have heard next to nothing about it. And one of the great opportunities would have been the retooling of the auto industry in Detroit—instead of just throwing money at it, turning that into a center of green production. So if you don’t get it from the leadership of the Democratic Party, where is there going to come any sense of urgency? Because there’s certainly, in terms of American public opinion right now—. And, I mean, the two words not heard—I should say three words not heard in the election campaign. One was war. Never heard. And the other two are climate change. Like, nobody talked about it.
WYSHAM: I know. And it is frightening, and it’s one of the reasons why it’s really important to be looking at where is the money coming from in these elections. And, you know, what we know is staggering. And also what we don’t know is equally staggering. We know that the US Chamber of Commerce has been a funnel for a lot of oil, gas, and coal money, specifically to be fighting any sort of clean energy initiatives at the state, local, and national level. We know that the Tea Party has been funded largely by the billionaire Koch brothers, who got their money from the oil refining business. And we also know that European polluters have thrown a lot of money into the US election process in support of climate denialists. So we know that Fox News has contributed to the US Chamber of Commerce with this dirty energy agenda. So what we’re getting is both a media message and a campaign agenda that perpetuates this confusion, this climate denial, this sense that climate change, maybe it’s happening, but it’s probably due to natural causes, as I think Sarah Palin is on that sort of line of thinking. But certainly it has nothing to do with fossil fuels, even though, across the board, every climate scientist says CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere causes the Earth to warm, and when you burn fossil fuels, you get CO2.
JAY: So what do you do about it? I know we’ve tried to get scientists to debate people who are critical of the human-made climate change thesis. It’s very hard to get a scientist involved. They say it’s not worth debating, and they say, well, it gives them credibility.
JAY: And it seems that almost by default the anti-climate change science position is winning because no one’s willing to go out there and fight it face-to-face. I mean, is this not also part of the problem?
WYSHAM: Well, I mean, I think it’s sort of a sad commentary when we expect our scientists to have to get that engaged in the political process, when, you know, essentially they are sort of trained to remain objective and to try to not take sides one way or another, to just be on the side of scientific truth. And yet, you know, they’re constantly being sort of spun through this political machine. And, you know, my feeling is that the Obama administration should be the bully pulpit for this issue. Obama has essentially deferred to Congress. Congress offered up a very watered-down version of what he campaigned on, which was 100 percent auction, which is essentially like—you know, plus some way of redistributing that money back to the American people. Instead what we got was all sorts of free giveaways to polluters and not enough redistributed to the people. Had he really pushed this agenda much more strongly, either through, you know, a vast increase in the amount of government support for the kind of clean-energy industries that we really need to see in this country, as well as in the auto industry and elsewhere, but public transportation, we could have moved further. I believe we could have moved further in the last two years than we did. Instead what we’re now doing is defending, you know, at best a pretty weak climate law in California. And we may actually see, as a result of EPA authority being offered up as one of the bargaining chips by various members of the House and Senate and the Democratic Party, we may actually see EPA authority being just continually hammered on over the next two years. We’ll see, probably, Lisa Jackson being brought forward and asked to testify and defend this, what—you know, even a conservative Supreme Court has decided the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
JAY: In fact, I think they said [inaudible] authority. They even said you should.
JAY: They actually directed them to do it.
WYSHAM: And yet what we will probably see over the next two years is just more delay, delay, delay.
JAY: So the issue really, fundamentally, is none of the politicians that are controlling both parties are willing to fight fossil fuel industry. So what should people do?
WYSHAM: Well, the good news is that the grassroots struggles are succeeding. And they’re coming from unexpected quarters, whether it’s environmental justice movements basically saying, we do not want an incinerator to qualify as a renewable energy option, which is something that was actually being put forward under the Waxman-Markey bill; or native people on Indian land saying no more coal mining, and actually succeeding in some cases in terms of shutting down some of these coal mines; you’ve got the anti-fracking initiatives that are underway in the northeast, people that are taking on this horrendous process of natural gas extraction that involves pumping all sorts of toxic chemicals into the groundwater. Right and left, people are rising up and really, you know, tackling this issue as a human right, the right to clean water, taking on corporations in their communities. Those kinds of efforts, as well as the Sierra Club has taken on coal-fired power plants across the country, and they’ve won just about every battle in terms of these new coal-fired power plants that were intended to go online. So my sense is that that’s where we need to be putting our energy over the next two years, continue, because the Chamber of Commerce can’t possibly keep track of every single local and state initiative. Environmental justice struggles have the—you know, they have the human face, the face of the people that are directly affected by these issues. That mobilizes people. And in the meantime, I think Obama could do a lot more with actual government investment in the clean-energy jobs, and siphon some of that military budget away from—.
JAY: I should have said that’s the other unspoken words in this campaign, the military budget.
WYSHAM: Yeah, we don’t talk about the military budget. We talk about climate security and military security. And even the Department of Defense is saying, look, the threat from climate change is far greater than the threat from terrorism. And yet where is all of our money going?
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
WYSHAM: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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