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Everyone in progressive environmental politics knows the name James Hansen. He is the leading climate scientist/advocate "authority" and whats made him so unique is not just his affiliation with authority via NASA, but the urgency and bluntness with which he pushes this issue. The entire Keystone XL movement was borne out of his hostility towards that project. So when that guy publishes a piece projecting that millions of lives can be saved via nuclear power, it made me re-think how I thought of this issue as a policy and political goal, and thus come to the realization that the environmental lobbying group has screwed up the fundamentals of being a group thats main goal and reason for existence is to push an agenda forward through the political process. The first goal is to not let yourself be caricatured or self-marginilized to represent a wing of the electorate, but an organization that has broad support that will have their calls answered not just by liberals, but by conservative democrats and even some republicans.

Now the way you guard against self-marginilization is not by the justness of your cause, unfortunately. I basically agree with many of their concerns about nuclear power safety, the industry practices, and have always had a visceral distrust of the industry's agenda/motives. And ultimately, these guys are on the right side of history and  are morally, not to be melodramatic, "on the side of the angels." So this is not the republican party dealing with messaging its general hostility to the american public, this is a community that has evidence and justness on their side. But what you need to do to protect yourself against marginilization is to first accurately read the political landscape, both to know what needs to change in the landscape(a lot) but, more importantly, to gameplan your advocacy and lobbying to successfully penetrate enough members of the political class to get stuff done. So the landscape we have is 1 party that is viscerally hostile to their cause in its entirety, and we have another party that has a few passionate advocates but is mostly made up of ambivalent/passive "allies" (Obama) and hostile opponents who are essentially also republicans on this issue. Now, this is important because in theory it should map out how any environmental organization should gameplan making progress working with our political institutions. Which brings us back to nuclear power.

The Sierra Club, Green Peace, 350, NRDC and most of the environmental lobbies are strongly opposed to having nuclear power as part of a solution to governmental action. Many organizations, like Green Peace, thought nuclear power in Waxman/Markey was enough of a poison pill to not support the entire cap/trade enterprise. When someone from these organizations is asked about nuclear they barely concede the CO2 benefits of nuclear power and quickly focus on the possible negative impacts of storage and plant incidents, things I agree with them on.

But think about what that does to their messaging and the role they're supposed to play as advocacy groups and not think tanks. The recent political messaging from the movement on stuff like Keystone, with the help of James Hansen, has been a renewed urgency that all bets are off on our other problems of today. They're saying, correctly, that the climate crisis should be getting the same attention as things like deficit reduction because, in a flip of Keynes, in the end we actually will all be dead. But now those same people who have made CO2 emissions the sine qua non of measuring energy sources make a complete turn on nuclear and judge it by standards, that while serious and pose problems for nuclear, should not be a huge stumbling block if the climate is the end all be all its supposed to be.

This is similar to republicans and the debt crisis, and how they champion it as the great moral cause of our time that should render all other issues irrelevant. But when it comes to one of the ways we can deal with debt (i.e.taxes) they flip and start making all these objections on the economic effects. Now, obviously, the republican hypocrisy is much more significant because, unlike Sierra, their critiques are false and completely meaningless in the face of their complete indifference to the economic harm the spending cuts they champion could cause. It would be like Wind Energy being more dangerous than nuclear.

But the point is, when you add the relative good results from the CO2 side on nuclear, combined with the massive buy-in it would give you from more corporatist democrats and almost all republicans, who support the industry, its the model of a concession an advocacy group would give to the political process. By this I don't mean resigning yourself to accepting is as part of a bill you support, as the Sierra Club did in 2009, but using it through lobbying as a buy-in mechanism to influence those who aren't with you to find a middle-course (as you see it of course) to move your agenda forward. The environmental political organizations is best shot at effectiveness is NOT to be seen as championing a niche, left, issue as they are viewed today. When you consider that the environmental community has made a strong push to fight against the fracking boom and natural gas, where I actually agree with their strategy, its important to not have a position thats basically renewable only and right now. The only people who can be absolutist and a political player are organizations that have favorable terrain, like the NRA or AIPAC. Environmentalist don't have that terrain, and actually have the opposite.

So long story short, the reason for the provocative title is so environmental groups can learn from the failure of republicans to get significant victories on entitlement cuts because of their visceral hate of a tactical defeat on tax rate. I don't think people truly appreciate how badly republicans blew this opportunity. They had a democratic president who was willing to own entitlement cuts and because of his popularity with the democratic base, would've put the stamp of the democratic party and even liberalism on those policies. So not only would they be politically inoculated, but the overton window would've moved to right in terms of policy and all they needed to give was a measly $600 bill and loophole closing and deduction capping, a small amount in the grand-scheme of things. So, this is a cautionary tale to environmental politicos whose goals aren't solely advocating policy, but remaining relevant enough to advocate policy that can make it through the political process.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Food for thought. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevskos, Nova Land

    Not sure I completely agree, (mostly due to the fact that nuclear power is just too damn expensive and takes a long time to build), but I think it's a debate worth having.

    Thanks for something to mull over.

    We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

    by RageKage on Thu Apr 04, 2013 at 12:43:42 PM PDT

    •  Btw...I do have serious concerns (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nova Land

      about the government subsidies needed to just get this industry started, but since the usual obstacles to those issues(republicans) are shills for the industry, its something that will end up being a problem for implementation but not a problem for greasing the wheels for forward movement on legislation. The main thrust of my argument to re-think nuclear is not because its a great solution, but because its relatively climate friendly nature and strong support from  "centrists", "serious people". and most republicans make it the ideal candidate for the kind of co-option that advocacy organizations have to do to move the balls forward.

      This is similar to how advocates for gun control have to basically say you believe in the individual right to bear arms. I'm pretty sure not only does the Brady campaign disagree with that but Obama, who taught  constitutional law, knows its the biggest load of BS and rewriting of history. But the Brady campaign and gun control advocates realized that, like Environmentalists, they had a hostile political environment and if they tried to advocate a hand-gun ban they would simultaneously have no chance of getting that passed and render themselves fringy or lefty, as opposed to identifying themselves as victims of gun violence advocating "mainstream" and "common sense" solutions like they've successfully done so far in this current debate (e.g. Mark Kelly)/

      •  Interesting post. I do think we need to wait & see (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Nova Land

        lwhether the gun control lobby's super-moderate approach is actually successful at all.   At least at the fed level we may well end up with a total failure of any meaningful legislation, Sandy Hook notwithstanding, which if anything means that the gun-control groups might need their own post-mortem.  

        At least no one has yet claimed a pseudo-constitutional right to Nuclear Energy.   Or fracking.   Though undoubtedly it's in there...

    •  I second what RageKage said... (0+ / 0-)

      I'm not sure I agree with you, but it's definitely worth thinking about.

      I especially like what I see as the underlying point of your diary: our problem is not simply to come up with idealistic dream solutions to the problems we face, it's to come up with ways we can actually implement policies which will make the world better. That calls for creative thinking and strategic thinking. And that's what you've presented in this diary. Thank you. Tipped and recced.

      9 out of 10 of Republicans have never visited Sunday Puzzle

      by Nova Land on Thu Apr 04, 2013 at 05:50:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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