By Mike Tidwell
In the past three weeks there’s been much debate in U.S. environmental circles over a provocative new paper [PDF] from Harvard University political scientist Theda Skocpol. In it, Skocpol gives the most compelling analysis yet of why the 2009 cap-and-trade bill to fight global warming went down in flames. In sum, Skocpol argues that intense and radical opposition from Tea Party Republicans proved much stronger than the environmentalists’ insider-game, partner-with-business, harness-polls-instead-of-the-grassroots approach.
My added value in commenting here is that I experienced the run-up to — and aftermath of — the failed Waxman-Markey bill from the field. I’ve been a grassroots climate organizer for 10 years, having founded the organization I still direct: the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. CCAN straddles much of the political landscape of America, organizing in the conservative “South” (Virginia) and the liberal “Northeast” (Maryland), while staying very involved in national climate initiatives in Washington, D.C., the geographic center of our region.
I saw from the church-basement view the rise of Tea Party opposition to Waxman-Markey and the insufficient grassroots organizing response from the major green groups. What efforts were made (Sierra Club stands out as well as the short-lived but respectable field effort of the group 1Sky) fell mostly on deaf ears since average people couldn’t comprehend the complexity of the cap-and-trade bill and could see no immediate and direct benefit in their lives.
Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm has joined many environmental heads in assigning cap-and-trade’s failure in large part to Obama’s lack of leadership for the bill. Plus the economy had tanked. These two factors are important, I agree, but they don’t get to the real heart of the problem.
Skocpol, on the other hand, from my field-based perspective, nails both the key problems and the solutions we need for moving forward. She is absolutely correct to call for a completely different legislative approach for the next big push on climate in Washington. She is correct in arguing that round two should be based on the policy of “cap-and-dividend” instead of cap-and-trade. David Roberts at Grist and others have applauded Skocpol’s criticism of the cap-and-trade campaign. But they are skeptical of her view that the best alternative is a policy that caps carbon emissions through permit auctions and then rebates the money directly to all U.S. citizens with a monthly check — cap-and-dividend….(more).