Political Animal


February 17, 2013 7:58 PM Straw poll: If “Forward” attendees had to concede to GOP for climate bill, they’d overwhelmingly vote to raise retirement age

By Samuel Knight

If you’re anything like me - and most Americans are, according to an AP poll - you think that Congress, like its counterpart in Germany, should already be aggressively supporting the development of renewable energy. Even if the 97 percent of scientists who say that climate change is anthropogenic are wrong, the proliferation of clean energy technology would boost employment, clean our air, and reduce our reliance on foreign imports “for nothing”.

But if the dearth of discussion on climate change during the Presidential campaign, Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union, the fate of the Waxman-Markey bill in 2009, the Republican Party’s general attitude toward science, and the vast amounts of dirty energy money influencing politics are any indication, efforts to reverse anthropogenic climate change - like the legislation introduced by Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer this week - face one hell of an uphill battle. Despite common sense being on their side, the anti-climate change caucus might have to make some painful, regrettable concessions to get anything done. How can Republican climate change deniers be convinced that sound science is needed to save the planet when a good chunk of them believe that it’s no more than 6,000 years old?

Which is why, today, at “Forward on Climate,” I decided to pose a question to rally attendees: what tough compromise would they make, assuming, somewhat foolhardily, that Republicans aren’t hell-bent on obstructing every piece of legislation Democrats bring forward? Assuming that old-fashioned sausage making would be possible, what would the rally’s attendees give up to pass proper legislation on the issue, assuming that Republicans would be willing to trade a climate change bill in exchange for a Democratic concessions on either gun control, immigration reform, same sex marriage, the retirement age or the Pentagon budget?

Obviously, the poll was far from scientific - the five issues were picked somewhat randomly; I only managed to get 65 responses, and the question was completely hypothetical, with at least a dozen people refusing to answer, saying that Democrats shouldn’t have to compromise anything. But the response was intriguing nonetheless.

The vast majority - about two-thirds of those I spoke to, or 43 of the rally’s attendees - said that they’d be willing to raise the retirement age, with both young and old muttering about living longer and/or having to work until they die, anyway. The second most preferred concession was gun control (full disclosure: the answer I would have picked), with ten attendees (not including me) citing that as what they’d offer in exchange for GOP acquiescence on climate change legislation. Tied for third were Pentagon budget cuts and immigration reform, with five attendees each citing them as their preferred concessions. Finally, only two “Forward on Climate” protesters cited same-sex marriage as the policy they’d relent on to get Republicans to pass climate change legislation.

I, personally, am sympathetic to the line of thinking that concessions aren’t necessary; that the issue will be something of an Achilles heel for Republicans in ten years, as their homophobic policies are now. Regardless, climate change is a pressing issue - we’re running out of time to implement life-saving remedies. Although the thought of making concessions to an obstinate ignorance worshiping GOP might be sickening, the fate of the planet might depend on it.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • President Lindsay on February 17, 2013 8:46 PM:

    To cite Germany as a model to emulate when it comes to energy policy flies in the face of actual data from that country. So far they have committed about $150 billion to wind and solar (the numbers are a bit tough to nail down precisely, but solar alone is close to $130 billion so that estimate is likely low). What they've gotten for it is an absurdly expensive and utterly unreliable collection of electricity generators that sometimes fail completely, necessitating a 100% "backup" system made up of fossil fuel and nuclear-powered generation. They're building coal plants to burn filthy lignite even as they preen about their environmental sensitivity. It is utter BS, and crushingly expensive.

    Several of their energy-intensive companies have either gone out of business or threatened to leave the country, taking their jobs with them. In order to avoid that, the government is giving those companies special rates, shifting yet more cost onto the consumers who already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe (along with Denmark, the wind model that also burns heaps of coal and has one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world).

    There's a website that shows the entire solar PV electricity output for any day. You can find it here: tinyurl.com/38alt4c Take a look at the week from January 16-22. The output for the entire country was virtually nothing. Sunnies made a big deal about it when Germany's PV panels produced almost half the electricity the country was using for a couple hours last May. Those same much-hyped solar panels were useless for many days, and in that instance for a week straight. The idea that wind could fill the gap is ludicrous. Wind is completely erratic, and much of the time that solar produces nothing, on calm, foggy days in winter, wind is absent too.

    Meanwhile, in a continuing case of national delusion, Germany is planning to shut down its nuclear power plants. If they would have committed the money they've thrown away on wind and solar to building brand-new state-of-the-art nuclear power plants, they could be 100% nuclear and, in addition to selling electricity to their neighbors, could actually make liquid fuel with their excess electricity and decarbonize their energy sector too. (Their neighbors in Poland and the Czech Republic, by the way, are fed up with the instability caused by Germany dumping excess wind into their grids when they don't even want it, and are now refusing to act as Germany's electricity dumping ground. Instead, they're building nuclear power plants that will be used to sell their own excess electricity back to Germany on those calm winter days and nights.)

    Germany's energy policy is based on fantasy. The actual data belies its effectiveness. To cite Germany as a model for the USA to emulate is only buying into their delusion. Look at the data!

    If we're going to produce the energy humanity needs from carbon-free sources, nuclear is the only way to do it. And please don't trot out the old clichés about waste and safety. Go read up on Integral Fast Reactor technology, which addresses and solves all the usually-cited problems. You can even download what is probably the best book on the subject for free from this site: tinyurl.com/9992kma.

    It does no good to call oneself an environmentalist if you have no plausible solution to the dilemma. Wind and solar power can never come close to making a dent in humanity's already huge and rapidly expanding hunger for energy. You can posture all you want and bitch about coal and oil and gas and nuclear, but if all you have is patently absurd delusions to offer it's best to clam up.

  • cwolf on February 17, 2013 8:53 PM:

    Add another vote for "Pentagon budget cuts..."

  • Nancy Cadet on February 17, 2013 9:18 PM:

    This is absurd . No doubt the attendees at the rally have been exposed to the constant refrain that "Social Security must be reformed" and the only solution for rising health care costs is "raising the age of Medicare eligibility . " in fact, there are simple fixes for the Social Security trust fund , and let's note that *all other advanced industrial economies * pay higher retirement allowances than the US does. hello???? All other advanced economies also have non profit health care systems , whether they are nationalized or tightly regulated ; that is a complicated problem for the US with no easy solution, but to sacrifice the elderly -eligible , for green energy investments is ludicrous . A false choice .

    The US war machine & arms industry (ie. Pentagon and contractors) gobbles up more $ than all other advanced (and non advanced but war mongering) countries combined. And we have so many über profitable corporations that pay no US federal taxes.

    Myopia, indeed. No doubt these respondants are not old, in need of consistent health coverage, injured or worn out from decades of toil . They'll learn how that feels someday.

  • Anonymous on February 17, 2013 9:43 PM:

    nuclear is the only way to do it.

    Perhaps. From the standpoint of energy output it greatly exceeds renewables while freeing us from greenhouse gas emissions. But if we had to switch to 100% nuclear today, we'd have only (by my back of the napkin calculations) about a 50 year uranium supply from known reserves. Supposedly if uranium prices got to absurd levels, it could be harvested from sea water which would extend present consumption rates out to 15,000 years. Of course, at that point we'd have to finally put not just Yucca Mountain to use but probably the whole of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah to use as quarantined waste dumps as well. Others argue that Thorium is the better fissile material anyway, as it supposedly is more efficient, more plentiful, and has a 400 year decay life instead of uranium's 25,000 years. On the other hand, if Thorium is such a magic fuel one would wonder why it isn't being used today.

  • Cajsa on February 17, 2013 9:49 PM:

    This is a ridiculous question. First, there is ample resources to do both if we had a sane Congress. Secondly, I would be willing to bet that the demographics of Forward would skew toward a group of people who are less dependent than average on Social Security for retirement so they are making a concession that affects other people more than them. Third, how about asking if they want to raise the retirement age to 76 for sedentary workers and lower it to 55 for those who do physical labor. Yes, life expectancy is higher, but bodies still wear out. Do you want some 71 year old breaking concrete?

    Sometimes the class politics of liberals (and I am one) makes me want to scream.

  • President Lindsay on February 17, 2013 10:15 PM:

    Anonymous, please download the book I referenced. You will see that neither fuel supply nor waste disposal will be a problem with IFR technology, and they're designed to be modular and mass produced in factories so that they can be deployed quickly and economically.

  • Theda Skocpol on February 17, 2013 10:21 PM:

    The Achilles heel of this movement is its profound upper middle class myopia, and this is one more of many indicators. Life expectancy has increased only for no manual workers, and most Americans greatly depend on Social Security. Just as most will be hurt by rising energy prices, unless size able dividends counter the losses.

    It is all too easy for anti climate regulation interests to argue to the American majority that environmentalists do not care about them. That bodes ill for major government action.

  • Herostratus on February 17, 2013 10:27 PM:

    Maybe we could offer them the 13th amendment? Bring back slavery? It's a huge concession, but climate change is a very big problem. Think they'd go for it?

  • Wimpy on February 17, 2013 10:30 PM:

    As an old guy who lived a long time in hot places before there was air conditioning, and who has lived for twenty years or so with only solar power, I'd say that you're ignoring the demand side.

    I've got a feeling that we're wasting a lot of energy, a lot of it on air conditioning, which really does little more than let people move to places where they are not comfortable, and allows them to develop a belief that being a little too hot or too cold is unbearable.

    If you could look at energy use as less of a partisan political argument than as the inevitable result of the pussification of a generation, you might be able to address it in a way that works.

    I got my doubts, though, same as you will.

  • President Lindsay on February 17, 2013 11:01 PM:

    The demand side rises continuously and will continue to do so, even if everybody in the south of the USA is willing to sweat. The majority of the people in the world live in relative energy poverty, and they are both determined to change that and perfectly justified in wanting to. What we need is not some ascetic ideal to which neo-Luddites would have us all aspire, but a way of providing abundant clean energy to all. We do have that technology. We just have to make the decision to deploy it.

  • exlibra on February 17, 2013 11:04 PM:

    Cajsa, @9:49PM.

    Thank you; you've said all that needed to be said (and I *love* your suggestion of the age split between sedentary and back-breaking jobs, vis-a-vis retirement age), but I'm gonna say it again (if in somewhat different words) anyway.

    Judging by who from my own town (small, left-leaning, and about 3.5-4hr drive from DC) went to the event today... most of the people there were those who spend their working lives sitting on their bums, 9 to 5, with either enough leeway to spend half of that time reading blogs, reading blogs for a living, or else not working at all (either because they're comfortably retired already, or because they never worked at all. The person who organised the trip from here does nothing but attend protests.) Extending retirement (and Medicare) age to 70 wouldn't make a haporth (half-penny-worth) difference to them. Ask the guy who picks up your trash and recycling, at 5:30 AM, in all weathers, what *he* thinks about having to postpone retirement till he's 70. Read the d...d obituaries in your local paper, to find out who dies at 68, and who dies at 88. Talk to the greeters at WalMart and the guy who sweeps the floors (and brings and assembles the equipment for your sick father) at your local phrmacy, what *they* think about late retirement -- half of them are already "retired" (teachers, as likely as not), and still not able to retire full time.

    Me, having spent most of my life unproductively, as a wife of an academic (who retired at 70), I'd go along with cwolf, @8:53PM: take some of the Pentagon toys away from them.

    President Lindsay. I remember you from the old days of Benen's Carpetbagger Report, and you were pounding the same nuclear energy drum then. IIRC, you're not, exactly, a disinterested party on the issue, are you? Wrote a book peddling it (and pooh-pooing potential problems with waste disposal), haven't you?

  • gyrfalcon on February 18, 2013 12:21 AM:

    Wow, all the people at the demo, and you too, are people who've always earned their living sitting on their fat butts at a desk in front of a computer.

    Seriously, screw you. You don't even know the cleaning lady well enough to understand this issue? Disgusting.

  • President Lindsay on February 18, 2013 1:27 AM:

    Well, if by disinterested you mean I've got nothing to profit by it, you're right, since I give my book away for free to anyone who wants to learn about advanced nuclear power. Of course I will continue to talk about it, since I see nothing else that can solve our climate problems (or energy problems in general) in an environmentally-benign manner. If you read the book you'll see what I mean by environmentally-benign. I've heard all the arguments against nuclear power. That book answers them (can't expect to do it in the comments section). Many, many environmentalists have changed their mind about nuclear power in light of these technological developments. Maybe you will too if you give it a look. We need solutions, not just protests.

  • Robert Merkel on February 18, 2013 6:52 AM:

    Yes, progressives should compromise on nuclear power (including reprocessing and waste storage). But even if you offered to build nuclear plants from sea to shining sea, does anyone think that this would peel off enough Republican votes to pass comprehensive climate change legislation?

  • boatboy_srq on February 18, 2013 9:01 AM:

    Assuming that old-fashioned sausage making would be possible

    This is the single biggest mistake the modern Democratic party - and the modern Left - is making.

    The GOTea is hell-bent on its new Crusade: a) more better living for wealthy, hetero, Right-Thinking™, FundiEvangelical (of the proper sect), Patriotic™ Ahmurrcans, and to H#ll with everyone else; and b) preventing/destroying/inhibiting anything Democrats want. The only thing keeping the GOTea from going Full Metal Fascist is that the Dems are trying to stay somewhere left of Franco. Any result in any "negotiation" is reinforcement in their closed environment: allow them any success and it's one step closer to their goal, and prevent the same and it's proof of some Gawdless Soshulist Librul Conspiracy to make everyone firearms-deprived, gay-married, treehugging non-consumers.

    Eighteen years of Conservatist wingnuttery ought to convince any rational non-Teahadist of this. Countless failures and scandals coming from Reichwing machinery, from the colossal failure that has been the GWoT and the FEMA scandal that was Katrina recovery, through the MMC sex-and-drugs-for-mining-and-drilling-rights fiasco and the frighteningly-deregulated financial industry meltdown, the TABMITWH freakout, the multiple "we're broke" moments that gave us a tussle over Sandy recovery funding and the credit downgrade, all the way up to the FreedomWorks 20-keggers, should have told us all we need to know about what these volk want and how they operate. Anyone, at this point, who still thinks "old-fashioned sausage making" is still feasible is relying on old-fashioned Republicans to contribute to the grind; and those people are mostly retired - or dead.

    The point where we had something on the agenda that could be postponed or set aside passed the moment the Contract On - er, With - America was pushed through Congress, and the evidence of that brutal truth is growing daily. We need to stop trying to convince ourselves that the modern GOTea is rational and open to the least negotiation. The longer we hold this increasingly irrational belief, the longer we'll keep looking for the magic sacrificial lamb that will cause them to see reason and act like responsible, rational adults. There's too much evidence that the modern Conservatist crowd has no idea how that's done, and until that changes all this "what would we give up to get [insert policy goal here]" chatter is pointless.

  • DiTurno on February 18, 2013 9:17 AM:

    A non-scientific poll about a non-starter of a compromise. Yeah, that's useful.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on February 18, 2013 9:26 AM:

    @ boatboy_srq

    Amen to that.

  • Bear on February 18, 2013 10:13 AM:

    Not everyone who sits all day for a living is well off, people. If you think that, your class consciousness isn't very impressive.

    The original question is useless but it does show who enviro types are ready to throw under the bus. Pretty much the same people who won't be able to pay their heating bills and will have to go without air conditioning. Also the same people who before they reach retirement will be thrown out of their jobs by the recession that is deepened as more jobs disappear in dirty energy industries.

    Sadly, I do think this unscientific poll is indicative of the lack of understanding of the big picture among climate change activists and enviros, and I'm certainly an enviro myself in terms of goals.

    I sure hope there is some better thinking out there on these issues than is often represented.

  • ceilidth on February 18, 2013 10:17 AM:

    This is the kind of answer you expect among people who are absolutely sure that they will never get old or get sick. Its companion piece was a thumbsucker in the NY Times this weekend where a business owner whined about the cost of it and suggested cutting back on its provision, because of course he would never get a disease whose outcome is improved by early detection.

  • Tim Connor on February 18, 2013 10:49 AM:

    Personally, I think the premise is stupid. Republicans, in their current incarnation as the conservative movement, do not make deals. They do not do "facts".

    Offering them concessions will only brand you as weak. Either the American people reach their limit with this BS, and withdraw any significant power from this crowd, or America will go down in history as the leader in creating the global disaster that is climate change.

    I am no longer very optimistic. The last 20 years have not been a very strong selling point for democracy as it is practiced in America.

  • somethingblue on February 18, 2013 11:52 AM:

    Progressives apparently never grow tired of proclaiming their willingness to trade things away in exchange for a deal that's not on the table.

  • Cugel on February 18, 2013 12:43 PM:

    I wouldn't worry too much about trying to stop Global Warming. The time to do something serious to prevent disaster is already past. We are already locked into catastrophic levels of climate change including drowning of coastal cities and massive weather changes that induce giant crop failures.

    These things are already going to happen. Not "unless we do something". Because of the decades long lag time between releasing greenhouse gasses and feeling the effects, much of the problem is a done deal.

    And the development of China and India together with much of the Third World will determine the planet's fate far more than the U.S.

    The American Century is over. We're entering a new world where the U.S. is not going to control things. We can help or hinder (currently hindering), but we cannot just make things happen anymore.

  • President Lindsay on February 18, 2013 1:58 PM:

    Robert Merkel writes: "But even if you offered to build nuclear plants from sea to shining sea, does anyone think that this would peel off enough Republican votes to pass comprehensive climate change legislation?"

    If we simply replaced our fossil fuel generating plants (gas and coal, primarily) with integral fast reactors, we'd be in an entirely different situation. Because they can run on nuclear waste, old weapons material, and depleted uranium, we've already got enough fuel out of the ground to power the country for about a thousand years. It's essentially free.

    But since that would give us enough "newclear" power plants to meet peak demand, the fact that peak demand is 2-3 times average demand is important. Since these reactors are just fine running at full power 24/7, we would have enough juice to power our grid plus that much or even double that much excess to use as we wish. With that we could make liquid fuels for all our needs, desalinate massive amounts of water and move it to where it's needed, and essentially create a zero-emission future with abundant energy. Climate change legislation would be a moot point (assuming the rest of the world followed a similar tack, but why shouldn't it, since it's such an improvement on the current paradigm).

    As Cugel says, though, we're already in a world o' hurt. It's highly likely that we'll have to resort to some serious geoengineering in order to have a hope of avoiding some of the most severe effects of climate change, and there will most definitely be vicious political fights (both national and international) about that. For the time being, though, if Dems would lead on this Republicans might just go along. After all, they've embraced nuclear power for years if only because it pisses off liberals. And because a lot of big companies would be involved in a massive project with massive dollars (though we could mass-produce these for a very reasonable cost per gigawatt), it might be hard for right wing politicians to refuse when their big donors are seeing dollar signs.

    But that means that we have to get Dem politicians out of the thrall of environists (environmentalists, without the mental part) who rant and rave about climate change but refuse to offer viable solutions or alternatives to the current situation. Anybody who thinks wind and solar and as-yet-to-be-developed/discovered other greenie alternatives can power the modern world simply hasn't crunched the numbers. Jim Lovelock and Jim Hansen are top-notch environmentalists who have, and look what both of them are saying.

    It's past time to get real.

  • cwolf on February 18, 2013 6:36 PM:

    @ President Lindsay,,,

    Go spew your dogma to the people displaced by the Meltdown that could never happen in Fulushima because you nukophiles are so smart.

  • R on February 18, 2013 8:21 PM:

    I'm with DiTurno (Feb. 18, 9:17 AM). I was having a hard time articulating my objections to the whole "compromise" idea (the uselessness of a "straw poll" being obvious -- you're admitting to being "unscientific" when the problem with the Repubs is their consistent willful ignorance of science), and then I happened to read this, in Steven B. Smith's review of _Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism_ in yesterday's NYT Book Review:

    "Compromise over interests is possible; compromise over principles is far more difficult."

    Is it morally acceptable to allow greed to change the climate too rapidly for humans, and many other species, to adapt? That's the principle at issue here. Yes, there's a lot of ignorance out there in Republican land, but we can thank the Kochs and Exxon-Mobil etc. for much of that -- they're using the strategies (and even some of the same strategists) as the tobacco companies used to dispute the science clearly showing links between smoking and cancer.

  • President Lindsay on February 18, 2013 8:30 PM:

    Ooh, did I hit a nerve with that "environist" bit?

    It's not dogma, it's fact. Fukushima's reactors were designed over half a century ago. We've come quite a way since then in nuclear technology as in other spheres (like the computer you're using, for instance). As for the displaced persons at Fukushima, it's regrettable for sure, but most of the exclusion zone has less radiation in it than Denver does all the time. It's unsubstantiated fear that's keeping the government from letting them go back home now.

    Even at that, the damage to the populace dwarfs the effects of the tsunami, that destroyed or damaged over a million structures and killed nearly 20,000 people, compared to zero for the power plants.

    If you've got a better idea for where to get the clean energy sufficient to power the planet, I'm all ears.

  • cwolf on February 19, 2013 12:39 PM:

    Did I say "Dogma"?

    I really mean Dogma spiced with little Lies and big Lies...
    as in:
    "...most of the exclusion zone has less radiation in it than Denver does all the time.."

    Whether you obtained that and your other lies from some industry generated book, blog, or pulled it from your bunghole, the lack of cites to your premises(by links to authoritative sources) means you are a Tool at best and a Fool nonetheless.

    In a world where common batteries just overheat and explode everyday - You want us to believe Your guarantee of perpetual nuclear safety based on Your assessment of how far Nuclear Safety has progressed???

    Shove it tool...
    where the Sun Don't Shine.

    In 2007, the IAEA reported there were 439 nuclear power reactors in operation in the world..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power

    Many of these plants are antiques. As societies here and there crumble the ability to maintain these monstrosities will disappear. One reactor at a time they will malfunction in ways that will lay waste to an ever increasing number of those "exclusion zones" that you & your masters will find "...regrettable for sure."

  • President Lindsay on February 21, 2013 1:27 PM:

    Temper, temper!

  • low-tech cyclist on February 25, 2013 3:10 PM:

    For a climate change bill, I'd trade gun control. For a GOOD climate change bill, with fully auctionable cap-and-trade, with C&T permits needed not just for greenhouse gas emissions but also for deforestation and the like, I'd cheerfully OK bloated Pentagon budgets as well.

    Hell, I'd even toss in a good chunk of my net worth. I have a young son who could quite possibly live to see A.D. 2101, and I don't want our failure to act on climate change to become his generation's "you have no chance to survive make your time."