Harvard Report Sets Path Towards US Climate Change Law

Read time: 4 mins

A new report released by renowned Harvard political scientist, Theda Skocpol, provides the most clear and unbiased analysis so far on the failure of recent efforts to pass legislation to address climate change in the United States.

Skocpol's report proposes a critical pathway that leads to a nationwide cap on climate pollution that the federal government could pass in the near future.

The report will not be without its critics, as Skocpol does place blame on specific stakeholders for the failure to pass federal climate pollution laws since the election of President Obama in 2008. Skocpol lays equal amounts of blame between proponents of climate change legislation and its opponents.

But this report, in my eyes, is exactly what the environmental movement needs - a well respected outsider with no skin in the game, coming in and saying what needs to be said. It is a refreshing kick-in-the-shins that will hopefully spur thoughtful discussions and create the formula for a new strategy to tackle the most urgent threat facing our society.

The Skocpol report can be a catalyst for change in the way the environmental movement operates.

Skocpol writes:

As I am about to spell out, the funders, experts, professional environmentalists, and cooperative business leaders who labored during the 2000s to prepare the way for a legislative push for cap and trade when a friendly president and Congress took office were not noticing the overall shifts in American politics that would make their insider-bargaining effort virtually impossible to pull off.”

The overall shift in politics that Skocpol is referring to is the fast and hard right turn the Republican party took prior to the 2010 midterm elections. Couple an ultra-conservative Congress with a renewed effort by the industry-funded climate deniers, and what you have is a toxic resurgence of tobacco-era misinformation that the environmental community did not anticipate.

According to Skocpol, the missing ingredient in the environmental movement's efforts is an outside game to counter the on-the-ground campaigning that the hard right is using to counter the efforts of environmental groups. It will not be an inside the beltway of Washington, DC that gets us a US-wide cap on climate pollution. Nor will it be an outside game, with boots on the ground in every Congressional district. It will instead be a savvy and well thought out combination of both, working in unison.

Skocpol concludes:

Here, then, is the bottom line: The political tide can be turned over the next decade only by the creation of a climate-change politics that includes broad popular mobilization on the center left. That is what it will take to counter the recently jelled combination of free-market elite opposition and right-wing popular mobilization against global warming remedies.”

A successful drive to engage a majority of Americans in effective measures to fight the ill effects of global warming is going to have to be organized through inter-organizational networks that link together efforts in DC with widespread efforts in the states and localities.”

This reprot is a pathway to success, laid out very simply by an outsider with no skin in the game when it comes to the politics of climate change and environmentalism. The question then for me is: “Will environmental leaders take this report and use it as a tool to do what needs to get done, or will they attack it because it hurts their feelings?”

As far as I'm concerned, given the state of extreme weather events, wildfires, record droughts, floods etc… feelings be damned.

Writing on the Skocpol report on Grist, author Bill McKibben describes the urgency and importance in much more eloquent terms than I do, stating that, “since this is a mistake we can’t afford to repeat (the planet is running out of spare presidential terms and congressional sessions), Skocpol performs a real service by helping figure out what went wrong.”

To ignore the Skocpol report, or to dimiss it, is not what we need right now. We need a plan to cap climate pollution in the United States. In fact we needed a plan yesterday and Skocpol offers something much more substantive than anything I have heard so far.

You can download the entire PDF version of the Skocpol report here: “Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming.”

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