Friday, February 25, 2011

Herman Daly on the rhetoric of "Sustainable Development"

I'm currently re-reading Herman Daly's "Beyond Growth" (1996) and found his thoughts on the rhetoric of "sustainable development" pretty refreshing:

Sustainable development is a term that everyone likes, but nobody is sure of what it means. (At least it sounds better than "unsustainable nondevelopment.") The term rose to the prominence of a mantra- or a shibboleth- following the 1987 publication of the UN sponsored Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future, which defined the term as development which meets the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of the future to meet its needs. While not vacuous by any means, this definition was sufficiently vague to allow for a broad consensus. Probably that was a good political strategy at the time- a consensus on a vague concept was better than disagreement over a sharply defined one. By 1995, however, this initial vagueness is no longer a basis for consensus, but a breeding ground for a situation where whoever can pin his or her definition to the term will automatically win a large political battle for influence over the future (page 1-2).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

EPA political drama in detail offers a great history of environmental regulation in the US, dating all the way back to plain 'ole nuisance laws. The piece warns that Republican's current efforts to strip the EPA of power will most likely result in even more federal regulations from the courts.

More on the EPA, climate change, and congress.

An article on the BBC News website outlines the efforts of house republicans to essentially strip the Environmental Protection Agency of authority.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Massachusetts released a report concluding that the EPA's recent power plant directive, alongside anticipated measures limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic substances, would create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Monday, February 7, 2011

GOP Congress to clog the EPA with investigations

If congress can't pass a law to stop the EPA from regulating carbon emissions (an action deemed constitutional by the supreme court), they'll do whatever they can to impede progress, including occupying everyone's time with committee interrogations.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Obama's Changing Rhetoric on Climate Change

A recent CNN post explains the rhetorical shift that Barack Obama has undergone in the two years between his time as a candidate and now. One crucial shift is his talk on Climate Change. While he is surely hoping to take action on the issue, his new political circumstances will require him to do so with a bit more stealth: re-framing the issue as one of "job creation" and "energy independence" instead of carbon reduction and environmental integrity. These issues have enormous overlap, but I'm not convinced that addressing the issue as one of job creation or energy independence will spark a reversal of GHG trends sufficient enough to avoid the positive feedback loops projected in the coming decades. While I think the rhetorical shift and ensuing agenda leaves much to be desired (e.g. "clean" coal is FAR from clean), it's probably the best option at the national level now. Here's the excerpt on climate change:

In his first address to Congress, in February of 2009, President Obama said, “I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.”

By his 2011 State of the Union the words “cap,” “carbon” and “pollution” were gone. Instead, Mr. Obama made this call, “I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”

The push for a much higher level of renewable energy has run throughout candidate and President Obama’s speeches. But note the way he has changed how he describes his goal, talking about the positive “clean energy” and no longer the negative “pollution”.

As for cap-and-trade, the change in Obama speech goes back to the death of the proposal in the Senate last year. Faced with another Congressional roadblock on cap-and-trade, the president is no longer talking much about the idea but he is more quietly pushing for carbon caps to be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.