Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hot Politics

I just finished watching Frontline: Hot Politics, and I think this was such a great overview of climate change history and politics. I was born in 1987, and the discussion of “Hot Politics” begins in 1988. It really opened my eyes to the push back politically climate change has had over my whole life time. I’ve heard the stories about when climate change studies started and scientists noted connection between temperature and carbon dioxide. This was a great presentation of the climate change problem from a political perspective. The first section of the film was entitled “Time to Stop Waffling” and 20 years later – my whole lifetime – we’re still seeing waffling among politicians.

I really liked how the film showed the transformation in public opinion and corporate action on climate change issues especially in the beginning of this century despite censorship by our own government. It makes me angry at our government for trying to hide something so critical to the health of our future. I was familiar with the TXU protests and buyout and Big Business moves on Capitol Hill, however this show made me see what a change of public opinion it was and how it came about from despite administration choices to try and hide climate change from the public. Recognition and action against the problem of climate change despite political effort to hide the issue makes me feel good about our future to find solutions in improving our energy practices which have a negative effect on the environment.

For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, I hope you enjoy it and get as much out of it as I did. I look forward to hearing your responses to the show.


Jonathan Q. Weldon said...

I was able to watch the first half of "Hot Politics" before the site started refusing access (anyone else having this problem?). Luckily I had seen it before and I experienced the same feeling of frustration with the government for their inability to muster the courage to do what is right. The technology is there, the know-how is there and one could even argue the economics are there, but the political will is not. Rewatching "Hot Politics" reminded me that unless we voice our frustrations to our elected officials and put them in the hot seat, we'll continue to see short-sighted environmental policy.

Amanda Cuellar said...

Hi Alix,

I just finished watching it as well, though I didn't have any trouble getting through all segments like Jonathan did...

I found it amazing how a line in a political strategist's memo became this huge publicity stunt to avoid the issue of climate change. If this strategy of scepticism among scientists can make people in our country doubt what they are experiencing in their environment, why couldn't we now start a public awareness campaign in the opposite direction? I think what is needed, now that there is a clear scientific consensus and the issue is more pressing than ever, is to make the urgency of combating global climate change an issue of discussion throughout the country. Many of our solutions to both energy issues and environmental issues are to come up with new technology to solve the problem, rather than creating public awareness and getting us to change our habits to combat the causes of such problems, us! Why not start creating awareness about the real threat of climate change now? I may be overly hopeful and idealistic, but I think widespread public outcry over climate change could challenge big business for the final say over this problem.

Stephanie Freeman said...

Hey Everyone,

I think “Hot Politics” had some interesting, yet sad details about the US’ struggle with climate change.

It is hard to believe how socially irresponsible some of the ‘scientists’ were in regards to saying that CO2 doubling would be beneficial to the earth (“The Greening of Planet Earth”).

I really liked the comparison to the tobacco industry and how they began to question the science when coming under fire for the cancer causing effects of their product. It’s so sad looking back and how uneducated senators and citizens can be in light of the carefully chosen words of a few of lobbyists. It’s sad to see how susceptible people are to tiny specs of doubt surrounding the climate change debate at the time.

Also, it’s very telling that Dick Cheney and his energy group henchman “took the information that was convenient…” when they changed Bush’s energy policy at the beginning of his first term. Removing the National Assessment on Climate Change from the EPA website seems to speak volumes to their stance on addressing climate change.

As far as Luminant (formerly TXU) goes, I know that they have invested millions of dollars in carbon capture technology recently. I assume they are anticipating federal regulations in the next decade, so they are acting early to participate in the research that will control CO2 emissions in the future. They are at least taking the right steps and doing what they can, despite the lack of federal regulations that are so obviously needed.

It’s a good documentary, enjoy!

PiersW. said...

The technology background and political history is interesting and insightful but remember that PBS, like big oil and tobacco, has an adjenda also.

PBS paints a fabulous sob story about our failed policy **remember that our class is titled 'energy technology and policy'** Nonetheless, it also highlights the complexity of making policy.

I think that its important to remember that while global warming and gas emissions may appear black and white, any policy tied to it becomes highly intricate; involving not only every level of our society and economy, but much of the world's also.

The video presents a very interesting policy implication that will need to be addressed:
How are international agreements enforced? Even the 'mandated emissions caps' that are discussed in the film are unenforceable. How can policy be used to both curb emissions and to create incentive to motivate an country to oblige? To me 'mandated emissions caps' certainly sounds like a catchy political phrase but perhaps there is more to it. There is certainly no easy answer to this question.

Take for example Europe; The economist has reported that despite their great desire to clean-up emissions, most of Europe will fail, and dismally so, at meeting their Kyoto emissions agreement levels. They should get an A for effort and a D for results. The US and China also failed. We should get a D for effort and a D for results. The question still remains, how can policy make Europe, China, and the US actually be effective?

Jason Cullen said...

I'm not trying to justify the Bush administrations actions but I think it's pretty easy to attack politicans. It would be great if our politicans accepted the idea of climate change and it's great that most of the public accepts it as well the hard part is actually doing something about it. Frankly I'm not sure the people in this country are willing to change their lifestyles. If the people won't accept change then it's all just political hot air anyways.

J.T. Marsh said...

I was especially intrigued by the bit on President Clinton's effort to enact a BTU tax to encourage energy conservation and thereby reduce CO2 emissions. I was personally unaware that the U.S. has already proposed such an ambitious measure to reduce emissions, though given that in those days the jury was still out on climate change in a lot of people's minds, I'm not all that surprised it failed. I am, however, quite amazed that some of the strongest opposition came from Democratic Senators because Clinton seemed to forgo the effort to get his own party to follow his policy. Some rhetoric in the documentary seems to suggest that had Clinton been successful playing politics with his party members, the measure just may have passed! It is even stated that failure of the BTU tax was cited by Clinton himself as the biggest mistake of his Presidency.

Now Republican arguments of the economic damage to middle class citizens could just as well have killed the legislation, and I doubt that America was ready then for what was essentially a carbon tax – but it’s a tantalizing thought that we may have had mandatory emissions reducing legislation long before Kyoto. Unfortunately for Earth, that tax didn’t happen, but recent events such as Austenites flocking to Austin Energy’s GreenChoice Program (pay a bit more for power to ensure more of it comes from renewables) suggests that at least some people are willing to pay out of pocket to mitigate climate change. A recent survey by MIT indeed found in 2006 that more Americans are willing to spend more on energy to “solve” global warming than in 2003, and this is in spite of the current administration’s best efforts to perpetuate the myth that scientists are unsure about climate change. I hope I’m not being too optimistic in saying that our country’s political emphasis on the importance of combating climate change has to increase starting somewhere around January 20, 2009, and this would likely accelerate willingness of the average American to pay for climate change mitigation. Here’s to hoping that we can finally “stop waffling.”

A couple other random thoughts on the program:
1)I had NO idea that mandatory cuts in CO2 emissions were among Bush’s 2000 campaign promises. I can’t argue with the effectiveness of his approach, but this really astonished me.

2)In the discussion of last year’s TXU coal debacle, a TX rancher cites that “we stopped building coal plants in ’88 for a reason.” What is that reason, unstated by the rancher or the PBS narrator? I’m willing to bet it was because natural gas was cheap, not because of concern over CO2 emissions.

J.T. Marsh said...

So I guess my links didn't work. GreenChoice is here: http://www.austinenergy.com/Energy%20Efficiency/Programs/Green%20Choice/index.htm
The MIT survey is here: http://sequestration.mit.edu/research/survey2006.html