Climate policy: Disengage “stakeholders”?

Perhaps there has been too much engaging of certain uncooperative and undermining stakeholders in the climate change policy discussions. As one of the world’s largest climate action protests ever unfolded this weekend, Anna Lappé makes that case in a new Al Jazeera America op-ed entitled “What climate activists can learn from the fight against Big Tobacco”:

Progress has been stalled in part because the biggest polluters in the world — those oil and gas companies responsible for the lion’s share of emissions, for example — have been given a seat at the negotiating table, treated as partners and stakeholders at the annual global meetings called the Conference of Parties, or COP. Over the years, these COPs have featured industry-sponsored pavilions, dinners and breakaway meetings. And companies have been granted official observer status through their industry trade associations, which are considered nongovernmental organizations under current climate meeting rules. Some have even attended as official members of country delegations. (For instance, a representative from Shell joined the Nigerian delegation to COP16 in 2010 and Brazil’s to COP14 in 2008.)

As climate activists call for governments to take real action on climate, the decades-long fight against Big Tobacco — specifically, how public health advocates successfully kept companies away from the negotiating table — holds powerful lessons for the role industries should have in these key talks.

 
It would be one thing if the oil and gas companies were actively interested in pursuing new energy strategies or diversifying their future plans into new and cleaner areas, but as she notes they are spending a lot of money trying to undermine the case that new regulations or laws are even needed in the first place. And in that regard they are probably forfeiting their right to have a seat at the table as stakeholders.

Incidentally, that mention of the Shell rep serving on the delegation from Nigeria in 2008 and 2010 is very unsurprising. As I explored in an article in January 2011, entitled “The Nigerian Republic of Royal Dutch Shell”, on the Nigeria-specific revelations from the leaked diplomatic cables a few years ago:

Royal Dutch Shell has essentially become, according to the company itself, the industrial octopus inside Nigeria’s government, even in the “democratic” era…

The ambassador reported: “She [Ann Pickard, then Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa] said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.”

 
Until now, most of the discussions have included oil and gas lobby folks on the theory that their “buy-in” would be critical to producing actionable plans for dealing with climate change. But what if they just refuse to buy-in? It should be clear after more than two decades of efforts that they aren’t really interested in taking the transformative steps necessary to bring their businesses into the future. At this point, they have too much influence at the table, rather than not enough. The fight against Big Tobacco is probably a useful analogy.

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with BP, local residents and other federal agencies, conducted the burn to help prevent the spread of oil following the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling unit. (Credit: US Navy via Wikimedia)

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with BP, local residents and other federal agencies, conducted the burn to help prevent the spread of oil following the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling unit. (Credit: US Navy via Wikimedia)

AFD 56 – Internationalism and Localism

Latest Episode:
“AFD 56 – Internationalism and Localism”
Posted: Tues, 10 September 2013

Bill and Persephone discuss Russia’s assertion that the UK is irrelevant to world affairs, then we examine the most successful global treaty of all time (and efforts to improve it), and we conclude by asking how individual cities and towns are possibly able to pass abortion bans on their own because that is crazy.

Additional links referenced:

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/EED8A9F289E19D3F85257966005DBF51

AFD 52: The Right to Rule

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 52 – The Right to Rule”
Posted: Tues, 06 August 2013

Who has the right to rule in a society? What is a democracy? How do citizens get to participate in a civil society? In light of events in Egypt, Persephone and Bill discuss political theories of legitimacy, governance, and civil society. Then, they discuss what Boston is doing to prepare for global warming effects. Warning: This episode may be educational.

Back on the Air! AFD Ep 48 – June Recap

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 48 – June Recap”
Posted: Tues, 02 July 2013

In the first episode of the summer at the new studio, my new co-host, Persephone, joins me to discuss the Voting Rights Act decision, the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, Wendy Davis, Obama’s climate speech, and Syria. This online version of the episode includes a much longer debate on the Syria problem.

Another Failed Senate Bill Attempt (or Why I Blame Harry Reid)

I had, perhaps foolishly, higher hopes than usual for the latest attempt to pass climate legislation in the US Senate. Harry Reid killed that completely, formally, yesterday. So I was very frustrated for the rest of the day. I’ve been discussing these multi-faceted frustrations with many of the environmental bloggers I know and trying to work out the next course of action, on what I consider to be the most important policy issue of the era. I will be discussing this more during the coming days, in lieu of my planned action/public lobbying posts (I canceled the one on Thursday about calling Senators and won’t be doing the one today about lobbying the White House).

But I think DR Grist (David Roberts) had an excellent post-mortem on the dead climate legislation attempt, in which he made a number of strong points. The two linked points I choose to highlight today are these… first:

Every cowardly senator repeats it like a talisman to ward off the terrible threat of having to act: “We don’t have the votes.” Two things to say about that. First, of course you don’t have votes for something this controversial before you go to the floor and force the issue. Pelosi didn’t have the votes before she took the House bill to the floor. She got the votes by twisting arms and making deals. She forced the issue. That was the only way the Senate vote could ever work — if the bill was put on the floor, the issue was forced, and Dems united in daring the GOP to vote against addressing the oil spill. There’s no guarantee that would have worked, but at least it would have been a political rallying point. It would have put senators on record. And it’s not like the wimpy avoidance strategy is producing better results.

 
We will never know if the votes are there or not unless we bring these provisions up for votes. It seems inconceivable to me that the Democrats could be taking a political bigger risk at this point by holding and losing big policy votes than by getting nothing done for two years. After all, the public elects them to cast votes and after a while will lose patience with the idea that they can sit there for six years and not cast any major votes in order to avoid casting risky votes. The Senate Democrats are risking their majority by not getting anything done, and they are not getting anything done because they are sure that they will risk their majority by voting on potentially controversial things and losing… somehow.

Like the House Democrats as a caucus, some individual Senate Democrats have put out themselves on the line publicly supporting climate policy provisions that will be unpopular with special interests, only to find the Senate as a whole isn’t planning to even hold a vote, let alone pass it so they have something to show for their courage. Mark Begich of Alaska, for example, is a moderate freshman Democrat from a conservative oil-producing state and he supported this plan publicly; that kind of willingness to take political risks shouldn’t be rewarded with another failure from lack of even trying.

And to finish quoting David Roberts’ related point:

Second, senators need to stop talking about “60 votes” as though it’s in the Constitution that the U.S. Senate — unlike every other legislative body on the planet — has a supermajority requirement. It’s not in the Constitution. It’s an accident, an informal rule that Republicans have taken to relentlessly abusing, not to extend debate but simply to degrade the Senate’s ability to act. The filibuster is anti-democratic and it is thwarting the country’s will. The American people need to be told this and senators who still want their institution to be minimally functional need to start getting angry about it.

 
This was not only another failed climate bill attempt, but one more failed bill attempt in general for the Democrats because of the myth of 60. The blame for this latest failure lies with them almost as much as with the ever-obstructive Republicans. I have condemned many of these Senate Democrats individually over the past year and half, but I reserve my strongest condemnation of failure for Harry Reid on this one. It was his (great) idea to merge the must-pass Spill Bill with climate and energy legislation. We knew it would be limited, but he got our hopes up by claiming (along with others like Kerry and Lieberman) that the caucus was uncharacteristically totally united behind this effort… and then he failed to deliver on this and by extension the job he is most required to do: lead. Now, having failed to unite his own caucus, let alone gather bipartisan support, he has punted climate legislation to November or beyond, when it will have even less chance of passage.

The extent to which I despise the pathetic failure of a US Senate Majority Leader we have right now has now reached unfathomable levels. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t despise the man himself, but the job he is doing (or not doing, more accurately) as “Leader.” When he uses the phrase “we don’t have the votes” — or lets others in key committee roles use the phrase — or refuses to pursue filibuster reform actively, it’s like he expects that votes will materialize when they feel the time is right, and that if we keep vaguely chopping legislation down without any real give-and-take negotiations, eventually 60 lost Senators will wander back to the fold and agree to vote for whatever half-assed stone soup has been assembled (or still remains).

One never gets the feeling that Harry Reid is shepherding the flock toward anything in particular or that he even has a bell to lead them home. They’re more like free-range chickens. That’s why I say he’s a pathetic failure as Majority Leader. And because his Republican opponent is out-of-her-mind crazy, he’ll be re-elected this year, which means at least another two years of his leadership, since he’s unlikely to step aside and won’t be challenged (or at least not successfully, since his hands-off style is exactly what most of the ego-maniacal Democratic caucus members love in a majority leader). Sure, the White House should get some of the blame too for not taking a more active role in pushing the Senate on these things, and that’s probably a function of President Obama’s tenure as a legislator himself for many years, but Harry Reid’s very title should command some level of reasonable expectation that he will lead the caucus.

For now, it will be time to re-evaluate on climate change mitigation efforts, perhaps by supporting inclusion of a strong renewable energy standard, as DR Grist suggests (although Reid also doesn’t want that), or by defending the Environmental Protection Agency vigorously as it works to regulate CO2 emissions without Congressional action. To be continued, as they say, but I wanted to make some initial comment on this Senate failure first…

This essay was originally published at Starboard Broadside.