Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Landmark or Landfill?

Critics have been standing up quote forcefully to alert both politicians and the public to the fact that the Waxman-Markey bill, now referred to as the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), is not as much of an environmental success as many involved in the movement think it to be. Organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Breakthrough Institute, as well as politicians like Dennis Kucinich have all pointed out that the bill may actually do more harm, in terms of mitigating climate change, than good.

Yet, hundreds of environmental organizations, have shown strong support for the bill even though many willingly admit that this "landmark" legislation needs a little (or a lot) of work. From their perspective, it is such a big deal that a bill like this has even been written, let alone passed the House, that they support it hoping they can fight to improve it later.

This approach is reminiscent of a dilemma discussed in an earlier post about green-washing. Specifically, is something good just because it brings attention to green or climate issues no matter the actual message or does the message truly matter?

In this case, the debate is about something much more dire than messaging, it is about policy. Suddenly, public perception of environmental issues is not the only thing at stake, but actual legislation that will define our carbon emissions trajectory for the next few decades and dictate our competitiveness in the renewable energies sector.

If you were planning to build a new home, you wouldn't knowingly construct it without enough rooms or amenities just so you could have a 4 walls and a roof to go back and improve upon later. You would design your house to meet all the needs you know of at the time and include all the most up-to-date technologies to make all the time and effort worthwhile. Most people don't build something, planning to retrofit it later.

So then why would we pass legislation that we already know full well needs to be retrofitted. While the symbolic gratification that this climate bill provides for those who have dedicated their lives to climate issues is meaningful, it is crucial not to give up true efficacious policy for a bill that barely looks good on paper, let alone in practice.