Skip to main content

Lieberman-Warner: The Outer Limits of Debate

inhofe I don't have it in front of me, but the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein once wrote something close to "Once montage was everything; now it is nothing." Montage is editing and its use a major feature of Soviet (and Eisenstein's) silent cinema. But montage as Eisenstein used it allowed for ambiguity and Stalin's regime found that threatening. Thus came Socialist realism and many years of stodgy filmmaking (and art in general) and, most alarmingly, Eisenstein's attempt to fit himself to the new model with the essay that contains that sentence.

Eisenstein's mea culpa may not encapsulate a philosophy to live by - being and nothingness writ large - but it might well illuminate some of the more puzzling aspects of the world around us. For example, consider the debate on Lieberman-Warner bill, which yesterday devolved into partisan bickering and maneuvering for advantage. Before then, though, you got a good sense of everything and nothing in action.

Here is Barbara Boxer of California:

Here ... is a beautiful creature, the polar bear,” she said in a speech on the Senate floor. “And people say, ‘Oh, is this all about saving the polar bear?’ It’s about saving us. It’s about saving our future. It’s about saving the life on planet Earth. And, yes, it is about saving God’s creatures.”

When a politician goes into messianic mode, she's not inviting debate, she's invoking a higher power to validate her argument and make debate irrelevant. If God says climate change is real and must be fixed, who are we to argue? Sen. Boxer is indicating that she believes what she is saying to the extent that she believes in God - and that is, we have no reason to doubt, a whole lot of belief.

That would be everything.

And James Inhofe of Oklahoma:

"Al Gore has done his movie. Almost everything in his movie, in fact, everything has been refuted. Interestingly enough, the I.P.C.C. — on sea levels and other scare tactics used in that science fiction movie — it really has been totally refuted and refuted many times.”

I'm not sure he means the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has refuted its co-Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, because it hasn't, but that Gore's points have in general been refuted, which is at best a mixed bag. (It was a movie, not a white paper - that's more what the IPCC does.)

Anyway, that would be nothing.

I mean these terms as descriptive not evaluative. For Boxer, there is the point that however much pain saving the environment might take - and it could be considerable, as this bill could send a massive shockwave through the economy if not handled correctly - we must do everything we can, and right now, to fix it. For Inhofe, the problem has been vastly overstated and nothing drastic need be done. In his view, the free market and President Bush's focus on long term technology will mitigate man's contribution to global warming - or at least as much as need be given that global warming isn't that much of an issue.

Qualitatively, we'd say Boxer and Inhofe have staked out the outer limits of this debate, with Boxer promising a dire outcome if the bill does not pass and Inhofe almost dismissing it as irrelevant. Clearly, most of the Senate, particularly Obama and McCain, have aimed closer to the center and will be content with the bill if a few amendments get tacked onto it - a whole different issue, as amendments can sometimes stake out so much turf on both sides of an issue as to render the bill incoherent as public policy and a morass of unintended negative consequences. (That's more-or-less what happened with the European Union's first pass at cap-and-trade.)

So there you go. For Boxer, global warming is everything; for Inhofe, nothing. Now, let's see if a bill comes out of all this.

Picture of James Inhofe. We were aiming at something more casual than the usual senator-jabs-at-air thing, succeeded at the casual but got a two-finger jabbing. It must be a senatorial prerogative or something.

Comments

Anonymous said…
> When a politician goes into messianic mode, she's not inviting debate, she's invoking a higher power to validate her argument and make debate irrelevant. If God says climate change is real and must be fixed, who are we to argue?

The Pope did speak out in favor of nuclear.
Pete said…
It should be remembered that in Barbara Boxer's California, new nuclear power plants are prohibited by law. For her, and the leaders in California state government, climate change is at a crisis level. But it is a problem to which only certain solutions are permitted. It makes me wonder just how much of a crisis it really is.

Nuclear power is a good thing, if only for the reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and mercury that would occur by replacing fossil sources of energy with uranium or thorium reactors.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…