Originally posted on NewDeal20.org
During the next year look for the incremental unfolding of the three epic environmental crises of our time — global warming, peak resources, and ecosystem destruction (which took place more quickly in the Gulf of Mexico this year). The victories of the Republicans in 2010 probably means that little or nothng of environmental value will be passed in the next Congress. President Obama may be able to accomplish some important initial steps, like imposing some greenhouse gas emissions standards on power plants, although even in the best case regulations wouldn’t take effect until 2012. It may be, however, that grim news from the environmental front could set up a wider consensus to try new approaches.
2010 was the year of extreme weather events, and 2011 should continue the trend of the widespread effects of global warming manifesting themselves, as Joe Romm has been documenting on his blog, climateprogress.com. This may make the public more open to weaning us away from oil, coal, and natural gas. The price of oil has now poked above 90 dollars per barrel, as demand for all kinds of commodities increase, noted by Paul Krugman. There seems to be more and more official acknowledgement that the end of the era of cheap oil is here, perhaps even the end of cheap coal, and the negative consequences of the recent increase in natural gas extraction may become more and more evident. Another oil price spike might concentrate our collective minds wonderfully, but progressives will be as hard put as they were in the 2008 campaign to respond to the inevitable cries of “drill, baby, drill”, unless we can come up with something better.
I hope that the realization spreads that we can move in a positive direction on global warming, the end of the era of cheap oil, and other environmental problems by directly rebuilding our transportation, energy, and urban infrastructures. For instance, the Obama administration has done a good job of supporting the resuscitation of the car battery industry, via the original stimulus. And while the President has allocated funds for high-speed rail and support for new wind farms, those investments have yet to move to a high enough level to start to turn the economy around. Perhaps President Obama and the progressive community can coalesce around a “green stimulus” plan that they can carry into the 2012 election.
Or we could call it a “blue-green” stimulus, one that rebuilds the manufacturing economy, and thus creates the economic engine for new jobs, while at the same time addressing the long-term environmental problems of our time. Such a stimulus would eliminate the need to import oil by continuing to encourage the production of electric cars, and in addition, push for a national system of electric rail. It would insist on domestic content for any government-funded infrastructure, including a national wind system, which could replace coal plants. Even if such spending added to the deficits, such a program would not be inflationary, because it would add to the country’s wealth and wealth-generating capacity, and it would help to rebuild the middle class. What could more appealing to voters than that?