Transcend this!

Posted April 27th, 2008 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Funk from the Swamp

I caught a few snips of Sen. Obama being interviewed on Fox News this morning (transcript here) and am disappointed to say that both of our leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are still falling into the trap of reinforcing caricatures of Democrats that are inherent in the talking points of what has become the mainstream lunatic fringe. Sen. Clinton fell into that trap most notably and recently when she felt compelled to “disagree” with MoveOn, on a position they never took. So lets just say they are both allowing themselves to get framed, but since I try to stick to environmental science and policy here, for now I’ll just respond to Obama’s remarks about regulations vs markets.

If Obama wants to transcend partisanship, instead proliferating the image of Democrats as advocates of top down regulation vs Republicans as advocates of market solutions for environmental problems, when asked set up with the question about where he might have differences with his own party, he could have, instead, taken the opportunity to say something more interesting, which is that the markets vs regulations debate is just an old tape that keeps getting replayed, and that there are legitimate debates, even among Democrats, over how best to confront complex environmental problems for which regulations alone are clearly inadequate. And that many Republicans, less bound by caricatures and ideological convictions, are already part of that conversation.

Although it doesn’t fit so neatly into soundbites, most of those engaged in environmental issues have, for quite some time now, known and acknowledged that end-of-the-pipe command-and-control regulatory solutions were only useful for going after the low-hanging fruit. From non-point source pollution such as stormwater and agricultural runoff, to global warming, we have had had to contend with a more complex breed of problems that requires a wide range of complementary approaches, including but not limited to market-based incentives. Secondly, regulations and markets are not an either or proposition – for example, for a cap and trade policy to work, you need regulations or policies to set a cap, and also to determine how permits are allocated and how revenues are used – which is the actual crux of the debate. Without that, markets will just stay the course that is inherent in the status quo and in existing policies.

Presidential candidates aren’t the only ones guilty of this of course. Given that the MSM feeds on it, disagreeing with one’s own side, while a pitfall for political candidates, is becoming a well worn path to fame and fortune for others. Another notable example being Nordhaus and Shellenberger who are making similar arguments in which they paint environmentalists with a similar broad brush. There is an interview of Michael Shellenberger by John Horgan over on bloggingheads.tv, much of which had me thinking “well duh” – to the extent I listened to it. More interesting commentary is this op-ed by Elizabeth Edwards, noting the shallowness of general news coverage of the presidential campaigns, in which “issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template” which is, of course, why the PNT aims to cover at least some of the news that doesn’t fit.

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