in Civilization

Will Greens Freak Out For Jobs?

I said yesterday:

Friday’s progressive freakout over nixed EPA smog rules is not really about fighting smog, but the myopia of issue focus in the blogosphere and the inflated currency of online outrage. Transportation is a wonky subject that often flies below the radar. It is not sexy or cute. Much of its advocacy is local. But federal transportation policy is also crucial in reducing smog levels as well as achieving other progressive ends.

One of this blog’s foci is transportation; see the masthead and the sidebar. Transportation is a vital progressive issue, and the stakes right now are high. Without at least a renewal of the gas tax, projects stop being funded, and actual jobs start being cut. Without a budget, America’s transportation infrastructure will deteriorate and fewer jobs will be created.

In case you haven’t heard, there is going to be a speech this week. The Republican response is to yawn, because the president gives too many speeches. That’s one major complaint about Obama. The other is that he doesn’t use the bully pulpit enough, i.e. he doesn’t give enough speeches. I hear this a lot, too; the two groups should come together and get their story straight.

It’s hard not to talk about the president when discussing transportation. Many online opinionators are investing in his failure, and it’s hard to attract the interest of major linkers if you don’t offer outrage in his name. But failure this week is not an option for anyone — not unless you think the way forward is collapse, and I don’t.

This weekend was an example of how progressives can explode in daisy-chains over the issue or issues that concern them most. I’m not calling anyone a “freak” for having a freakout, either. Freakouts happen. I’ve had freakouts myself, and in fact was having a kind of freakout this weekend, for it was an important time to write on transportation issues while everyone else was freaking out over smog regulations and a pipeline.

As a progressive, the sorry condition of American infrastructure concerns me. It ought to concern everyone who calls themselves a progressive. Transportation is boring, though. It’s graphs, maps, and statistics. It’s empirical liberalism that necessarily involves federalism and planning. It’s railroads and factories and energy and power lines and sewers and broadband and walkable, bikeable roads and bridges that aren’t falling down and dams that don’t crack. It’s the stuff Rachel Maddow has in the background of her ads for MSNBC, which is about the most advocacy it gets in the “liberal media.”

Infrastructure is fundamentally green because it lets us live in dense cities and communities. The right policy controls sprawl — a goal any environmentalist should advocate. The right policy creates choices that use less fossil fuel — again, a huge environmental goal. Without those policies in effect, you will never even begin to meet the climate challenge in a country with this many people.

The president is going to spend a lot of time talking about jobs for the next year, and transportation and infrastructure will be a big part of that. And without jobs, good luck with your green agenda! We can all start talking climate survival under authoritarians who don’t believe that fuels are even fossils, much less that burning them alters global climate. We can look forward to peak oil slamming us in the face like a ton of bricks because we won’t have the infrastructure we need to meet the challenges.

What I wrote yesterday drew an outraged response from climate hawks, who sensed that I was being dismissive of their concerns. I’m not. They are great people and I take their criticisms in good spirit. But their grief reaction at Friday’s announcement was hijacked in a matter of seconds by a segment of the online left that is invested in bashing the president. This is a really bad time to let them run the conversation.

Smog is lethal; so are poor roads and bridges and unwalkable streets. To put things in perspective, 12,000 smog deaths are a tad more than one-third of US highway traffic fatalities. Roads can be improved for safety, minimizing crashes and injuries while creating jobs. Sidewalks and bike lanes save lives too: nearly 48,000 American pedestrians were killed in the last decade. Sidewalks and bike lanes create jobs.

As far as smog goes, six of the seven suggestions at this eHow article on “how to reduce smog” involve vehicles and gasoline. So how is this calculus wrong? Or as Zandar put it yesterday: is smog the hill to die on? I don’t think so. Moreover, I think the environmental movement has a basic problem to solve, and transportation shows the way forward.

Smog has been trending down for a long time, in large part because of effective mileage standards. Americans now have jobs building better, cleaner cars. Smog also comes from industrial pollution and coal smoke; beating smog could involve a green/progressive industrial policy that creates jobs and a green/progressive energy policy that creates jobs. Do you sense the pattern here?

The environmental movement often bemoans its weakness at gaining traction on its issues, and one reason is that the reigning media frame on their issues is jobs versus environment. It’s false, and unfair, but it’s become as intractable as the “kitchen table” analogy in budget debating. Transportation is an exception to this problem.

Greens should take advantage. This week is crucial to shaping the discussion of jobs and spending, and also has an enormous impact on emissions. Republicans are attacking every new EPA regulation with the help of key Democrats in Congress. The discussion this week can be about “job-killing regulations,” or it can be about job-creating (and emission-reducing) spadework.

The Friday Freakout — on Twitter, in blogs, and in email lists — didn’t actually advance the goal of emissions reduction. It’s okay to be upset by decisions with which we disagree; it’s okay to ask the president to explain himself; it’s okay to talk about the impact of his decisions and work though the five stages of grieving.

What’s not okay is to let a collective freakout catch fire all week and eat up the oxygen.

So let’s make one thing perfectly clear: like the president, I want to keep hearing from the left on environmental issues. I am glad to see climate and green activists still resisting the Keystone XL pipeline. I hope they win. Nothing I have ever said should discourage them; they have my full support (yes, even you, Jane and Dan). Nor do I wish to discourage or belittle climate hawks, who are some of my best friends. More power to them all.

And more power to the president, who has managed to get the federal government’s largest hydrocarbon-consuming department — Defense — to stop using so much oil. He has aggressively altered the nation’s transportation priorities to use less oil. Quite simply, the way to avoid drilling the world to death, to make our carbon-intensive civilization less carbon-intensive, and to never burn that awful, carbon-intense tar sands oil is to use less oil. Obama gets this, and I’m not sure most progressives do.

It’s Labor Day. There’s to be a jobs speech this week, and then lots of bipartisan common wisdom in the media, all with the word “jobs” repeated ad nauseum. It might be boring, but it’s important, and crucial for the environment, and therefore worth a little freaking out.

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  • Anonymous

    Fantastic writeup.  Not much else I can say.

  • Thanks for reading!

  • Pingback: Balloon Juice » OzoneGate 2: Electric Boogaloo()

  • This is a good follow-up perspective to the original post. Thanks.

  • Thanks for reading!

  • “But their grief reaction at Friday’s announcement was hijacked in a matter of seconds by a segment of the online left that is invested in bashing the president.” That is a strawman, and your use of it weakens your entire argument. 

    And saying “Yeah, this is bad, but he did other good stuff” is really weird way to go after this. Like the strawman above, all it does is let you “win,” no matter what the complaint is. If Obama announced support of raising retirement age to 75, you could argue, for example, “But look at this other good stuff he did on Labor!” It would still suck that he raised the retirement age to 75. The ozone issue stands on its own.

  • Anonymous

    Before studying to become an accountant, I did a fair bit of computer programming study. (Why did I choose to give up computer programming for accounting? Recall the feeling you had, last time you had to hose spyware and viruses off a less computer literate friends’s computer, and imagine feeling that way eight hours a day forever.)

    My time programming made me keenly aware of the virtue of efficiency – more efficient = runs faster – and the incredible power of changing a variable. Anyone who’s used a cheat code in a video game has done exactly this. Doubling one number or cutting one number sends ripples throughout the entire system.

    So that’s why I have praise for the doubling of fuel efficiency standards, and condemnation for delaying the smog standards. Without crunching numbers, I think doubling fuel efficiency will have greater positive effects than the delay in smog standards will have negative effects – but all the same, things would be better had they implemented them sooner.

    So I agree for the most part with what Matt writes here. There are many paths to a less carbon-thirsty society and Obama has taken some of them and will take more. I hope that he manages to thread the needle on Thursday and convince people that “more jobs” and “better for environment” are compatible concepts (though I have my doubts about the media’s willingness to amplify the point.) 

    I do think, however, that the politics of this could have been handled much better, and this has been a recurring problem with this Administration. Now, online discourse tends to be about fifty times as negative as positive – “everything-sucksism” is the religion of the Internet – but regardless, I think the news could have been given in a much better way. Dante at Hullabaloo had a theory that the technocratic impulses of the Obama Administration makes them more popular with wonks than with activists – spotters versus shooters, to use my own nomenclature – and I think that’s sound. I think that the Administration could do with some food for the activist faction as we head into an election cycle. Yes, I know that given the choice between making us feel good and doing actual good the Admin should choose the latter – but I think it’s a false choice to say that they can’t do both.

  • You make a good argument that I won’t disagree with. In fact, I’ll join te central criticism you make of the Obama WH. It’s one reason why I’m so grateful to have you blogging here.

    This is another:

    Recall the feeling you had, last time you had to hose spyware and
    viruses off a less computer literate friends’s computer, and imagine
    feeling that way eight hours a day forever.

    You always find at least one way to make me laugh.

  • “That is a strawman, and your use of it weakens your entire argument.”

    See the “Blogging Derangement Syndrome” category at the top of the post?  That’s because I pay attention to the way these issues resonate in the ‘sphere. A “strawman” is a false construction. I base my statement on what I actually observed over the weekend. Your comment is a trap; if I give specifics and a timeline you’ll just say I’m being divisive.

    Nor is my argument here about “other good stuff he did.” It’s about the fundamental question of policy priorities and how the green movement can stop suffering inside the producerist frame of jobs VERSUS environment.

    In fact, what your comment reveals is exactly the kind of “investment” I was talking about. Nine-tenths of this post is unaddressed in your comment. You have only focused on your disappointment and anger towards a president, offering zero useful suggestions for moving forward on any issue.

  • Anonymous

    The notion was crystallized by Karoli’s (excellent) post today about Bill Daley. For the most part, I blame the media for being hostile to any message that requires enough brain power to toast bread, but all the same – the Obama Administration can only control how they approach the media, and not the media itself, and they should get better at this. It shouldn’t be up to bloggers favorable to the Administration to run around putting out its fires.

    Still, it’s hard to say that this is the exclusive shortcoming of the Obama Administration. That link everyone passed around about an ex-GOP staffer had some bullshit critiques of the Democrats, but the one that I felt was spot on is that the Democrats let the wonks choose the framing, which is like asking the engineer of the new Honda Civic to come up with the ad campaign. This is a partywide problem, but if it’s going to start being solved anywhere, it might as well be with the party’s most visible faction.

  • For starters, you’ve again tried to set it up so can’t lose. I have to reply to everyone of your 8,000 words or my response doesn’t count? What rubbish.

    And here’s a useful suggestion: Obama shouldn’t do damage to the EPA and its already difficult and way-behind-the-game work, and he shouldn’t – one again – use and thereby strengthen Republican talking points. 

  • THIS is a strawman: “I have to reply to everyone of your 8,000 words or my response doesn’t count?” No, you don’t, and I never said you did. You don’t argue with transportation policy, or the inherent green effect of that policy, because can’t. All you offer is that EPA regs are good and Obama is bad.

    A two-year delay to publish regs backed by up-to-date science is not going to kill the EPA. That would take a GOP Congress and president, and we had all better fight like hell to prevent that from happening. You want smog regs? Fight for them instead of moaning that you didn’t get your cookie.

  • Karoli’s post was well-timed, as I’m looking at industrial policy issues.

    You’re right about this not being a shortcoming exclusive to the WH. It’s endemic among Democrats in general and liberals in particular.

  • I didn’t realize when I came to discuss this that you were a dick. You’re invisible “segment of the online left that is invested in bashing the president” *is* a strawman, in its most pure form. If there were ten or ten million people like that – who cares? What does it have to do with the facts? Absolutely nothing. It’s a strawman. And the fact that you use that *does* weaken your entire argument, because it is an absurd distraction. You have a lot of knowledge to share on this, but your ruin it with that.

    “A two-year delay to publish regs backed by up-to-date science is not going to kill the EPA.”

    No, and nobody said it would. But it does undercut the work of scientists at the EPA. And Obama saying that he was doing it to “save jobs” is just horrible. There are in facts good arguments that say the exact opposite. (I’m sure you saw Krugman’s column on this.) And it’s Republican framing that helps Republicans. It’s wrong, and it’s right for Dems to call him out on it.

    If you’re going to start your “moaning” bullshit, we can just be done.

    P.S. The fact that Balloon Juice’s ABL chose you does not bode well for you either.

  • “Chose” me? What? By my count, that’s the umpteenth time someone has told me my career was doomed for someone’s interest in me. As for “dick:” let me tell you who the dick is. The dick is the person in Australia who has to win the argument with the blogger ten thousand miles away. The dick is the person who does that under a post that’s reaching out to those the blogger has heretofore criticized. That “invisible” segment is all too visible, and all too loud, and you fool exactly no one by denying it exists. In fact, doing it makes you look like a dick.

    “But it does undercut the work of scientists at the EPA”

    Actually, it leaves scientists to spend the next two years updating their science, to present it at a time when a different Congress might not erupt over it, and perhaps critical infrastructure and jobs bills won’t be the most important thing on the table. The trick is for concerned progressives to see that this happens.

    “And Obama saying that he was doing it to ‘save jobs’ is just horrible.”

    It’s politics. There’s a reason why lawmaking is compared to sausage making. Obama had to offer a justification, so it might as well be one that buries the controversy while he’s talking about this supremely important issue for greens, whether they realize it or not, as well as the rest of the entire country.

    You don’t live in my country, so you may not care about it, but I do.

    “There are in facts good arguments that say the exact opposite”

    Facts? I like facts. I wish they had an inherent power to effect change. They do not. Indeed, they are inherently weak at transforming themselves into change  — especially the inconvenient facts. We may hate that, but it is how the world actually works.

  • Anonymous

    Your article is logical and sound.  But it neglects the symbolism factor that is inherent when a President makes important decisions.  As it stands, the President has held his ground in doing one thing:  going after bin Laden. Your grown-up approach is the practical one, but the reality is that the President is perceived as weak and mealy-mouthed because of his willingness to give in to the other side, rather than champion the beliefs of his own Party. He ALWAYS blinks, and the GOP knows it and they come up looking like winners.  Those 2 years will fast-forward our environment’s deterioration, like telling crack-cocaine users they won’t be prosecuted for 2 years). I will vote for him, but I will put my energies in getting rid of the Conservative Democrats from the House, so a true Progressive, Nancy Pelosi can carry our flag.  

    I sincerely hope that the GW Professor who has predicted Presidential wins since 1984 is correct, and that Obama will win.  I just hope the damage isn’t done already–as we’re seeing now, in the resolution of some policies that allegedly did matter.  You can write a list all you want of the things he’s done (I’ve championed his accomplishments, in the past, too). But Obama appears to be as irresolute in his principles as Governor Perry is resolute in executing people.  

    Someone said that Obama is an empty slate upon which people project their hopes and desires, which makes him all things to all people.  I believe that where Progressives are concerned, he is deaf and dumb and he will do nothing.  So, I’m all for not complaining, let’s get him elected. But some of us will do so, holding our noses, and hope that the real Barack Hussein Obama will appear in 2012.  In the meantime, I’ll focus on getting a Democratic House back in its seat of power. 

  • ABL chose you because her entire shtick is the invisible masses of billions who just live to attack Obama. And you served her well. (And it’s really rich for you to act so haughty when you obviously instantly lump me in with this pretend group. Could you be more offensive?)

    And you put up something on the internet, and I responded to it. (That’s kind of how it works. Were you unaware of that? Of course not. You’re not freaking out at people *agree* with you.) I disagree with you. And I didn’t do it disrepectfully: callling something a “strawman” is not disrespectful, and you don’t have to become a pissy three-year-old to argue against it.

    Oh, by the way, I’m an American. What does where I’m responding from have to do with anything? Again: What a dick.

  • “Actually, it leaves scientists to spend the next two years updating their science…”
    Holy christ. That is so blisteringly obtuse. I’m sure the scientists twho already did their work and had kicked to the curb appreciate your condesencion very much.

    Wow.

  • “Actually, it leaves scientists to spend the next two years updating their science…”
    Holy christ. That is so blisteringly obtuse. I’m sure the scientists twho already did their work and had kicked to the curb appreciate your condesencion very much.

    Wow.

  • ANd this is just weird. A commenter above wrote: “So that’s why I have praise for the doubling of fuel efficiency standards, and condemnation for delaying the smog standards.”

    And “I do think, however, that the politics of this could have been handled much better, and this has been a recurring problem with this Administration.”

    And you reply: “You make a good argument that I won’t disagree with. In fact, I’ll join te central criticism you make of the Obama WH.”

    That does not square with your reply to me.

  • You seem to think that I cannot brook any criticism of the president. I can. In fact, I’ve dished it out before and will again. What I won’t do is hang out in the comment threads of someone’s blog characterizing the president.

  • “Obtuse” means difficult to understand. This is not difficult to understand: the EPA is already going to update its smog science. Regulations issued in 2013 will therefore have updated science behind them.

  • I don’t recall ABL ever saying that “invisible masses of billions” were living to attack Obama. That’s a caricature. She didn’t “choose” me, either — I chose myself and others have responded.

    Nor have I “lumped” you into anything. I responded to your comment, and that’s the way the internet works — right?

    My main contention with you at this point is that you keep using terms like “strawman” and “obtuse” without regard to what they actually mean. Words have meanings. They aren’t just stones to pick up and toss whenever you feel angry.

  • “I will put my energies in getting rid of the Conservative Democrats from the House”

    Speaking of environmental issues, Blue Dogs are nearly extinct. There was an election last November, and they got slaughtered.

    “I believe that where Progressives are concerned, he is deaf and dumb and he will do nothing”

    He will do as much as he can with the Congress he has. You’re right that we need to change the Congress, a point I’ve been arguing for the last three years.

    BTW, I think the “empty slate” bit comes from Obama’s autobiography.

  • Anonymous

    True about the Blue Dogs, but if there’s any Blue Dog poop residue on any of the remainder DEMS, we need them out.  It’s sad that Progressives are considered extreme when we ask Obama to honor his own promises.  Why listen to anything he says, anymore, because he’ll likely turn around and do the exact opposite.  I’ll come around again, but right now, I’m fed up with him. 

  • It is my contention that you are not arguing in good faith. If you want me to back up a bit, and we can carry on a bit more sociably, I’lll agree to that. 

    You said: “But their grief reaction at Friday’s announcement was hijacked in a matter of seconds by a segment of the online left that is invested in bashing the president.” That is the “invisible masses” I was referring to, the “billions” obviously hyperbole. I think it is a strawman. I’m perfectly aware of what the term means. Who are these people who are “invested in bashing Obama”? I find that a really immature and really offensive creation. And, again, it has absolutely nothing to do with the facts of the issue. It is therefore, in my view, being used to distract from the issue.

    And you most certainly lumped me into that group when in your very first reply you said, “You have only focused on your disappointment and anger towards a president.” I mean, that is so insulting. Can you at the very least cop to that?

    And obtuse, via Merriam-Webster: “1. Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand.
    2. Difficult to understand.”

  • ANd in case yo umiss it down there: “Obtuse: 1. Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand. 

    2.Difficult to understand.”

  • And why do you just ignore the bits where you’ve been shown to be wrong or silly?

  • wow this is a nice blog of Will Greens Freak Out For Jobs and i like that a Americans now have jobs building better, cleaner cars.
    class b rv

  • “If you want me to back up a bit, and we can carry on a bit more sociably, I’lll agree to that.”

    Good, because I’d like that. Why don’t you hang about and read a post that’s not this one? Comments on this one will close in a few hours anyway.

    “Who are these people who are ‘invested in bashing Obama’?”

    Trap. When I name them, I get shit on for being “divisive.” I go to Netroots and get pressure to let up on them. That way is just another distraction, and like the president I am picking my battles.

  • I don’t think I have been.