08 November 2011

Dreams not Nightmares

Some of the most fervent advocates for action on climate change spend a lot of time trying to stop things and telling policy makers what not to do. The battle over Keystone XL is just the latest example in a strategy focused on limits and saying "No!." The battle over cap and trade was much the same.

As Nordhaus and Shellenberger once wrote (PDF):
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an “I have a nightmare” speech instead.

In the absence of a bold vision and a reconsideration of the problem, environmental leaders are effectively giving the “I have a nightmare” speech, not just in our press interviews but also in the way that we make our proposals. The world’s most effective leaders are not issue-identified but rather vision and value-identified. These leaders distinguish themselves by inspiring hope against fear, love against injustice, and power against powerlessness.

A positive, transformative vision doesn’t just inspire, it also creates the cognitive space for assumptions to be challenged and new ideas to surface.
Of course, advocates for action on climate change may think that they are doing something important in trying to stop US approval for an oil pipeline from Canada, but unfortunately, they are not.  Michael Levi has more along these lines here.


  1. Agreed.

    If Barack Obama gave an 'I have a dream of an affordable,comfortable 100 MPG car' 'before this decade is out' the Keystone XL pipeline issue would be a moot point.

    Of course the 'everyone(except highly visible Climate Change advocates such as Al Gore and Thomas Friedman) should be forced to give up personal transportation and ride the bus' crowd would object.

  2. Fungibility is the operative word. Aside from the pipeline, both the US and Canada are building massive rail tank-car capacity to move oil to market from the Bakken formation and the oil sands. BNSF will this year add 500,000 bpd terminal capacity in North Dakota alone, to get the Bakken oil down to the Gulf Coast, where USDG are adding five new rail terminals. It currently costs $12 a barrel (and is far more carbon intensive than a pipeline would be) to move oil from ND to the gulf by rail, but it doesn't matter, because there's a $35 discount on the price at the wellhead over Cushing WTI.

    Interestingly, the anti-Keystone XL effort in Nebraska is being bankrolled by one of the major shareholders and founding partners in Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF. Berkshire stands to make billions transporting the oil, and but billions less if Keystone XL is approved.

    It's enough to make one cynical. :-)

    But one way the other, the oil is coming south, even if they have to pay undocumented immigrants to carry it down in buckets.

  3. .

    The opposition to XL is just nuts. Canada is going to produce and ship the stuff no matter what. The only question is whether it is going by a low risk (with high American jobs) pipeline to American refineries, or is it going to be shipped by tanker to China and others with an even higher CO2 output and next to no American jobs.

    It seems mere reality has no place in extremist Green religion.


  4. Obama is in the sorry position that it doesn't matter what decision he makes it will be the wrong one for a substantial portion of his "base"... And that position merely gets worse the longer he delays. The two sides to the argument continue to escalate their invective and entrenching their positions. If he had pushed this decision through a year or so back he would have been treated as a hero by most people and the environmentalists would have moved to something else to complain about. Possibly the best he can do now is try and find a reason to simply delay making any decision until after Nov 2012.