Back in December, when it became clear that President-elect Obama would name the physicist Steven Chu as his energy secretary, Climate Progress blogger Joseph Romm, a former energy official in the Clinton administration, applauded the move.
This was great news for anyone--like me--who takes to heart what James Hansen, the United States's top climate scientist says about coal: that we have to phase out its use within ten years if we hope to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.
The problem is that today, in his confirmation hearing on the Hill, Chu backed away from his comments on coal. According to the New York Times blog Green Inc, Chu "said that coal, which has a wide political constituency, would continue to be used, and that the trick was to convert it to electricity cleanly."
Except that, gulp, we don't yet know how to convert it to electricity cleanly. There is no such thing as a practical carbon capture system.
In other words, in the face of political realities, Chu backed away from the scientific necessity to stop using coal. It's a sad fact that people who are idealists on the outside of power often become so-called realists on the inside.
It's not because they're bad. It's because they're suddenly faced with institutional pressures that oppose their idealism. What that means is that we have to provide them with the countervailing institutional pressure that supports their idealism and encourages them to do the right thing.
Which brings me to the point of this post which is simply this: With Barack Obama about to take office, this is not the time to lay off our climate activism. It is the time to lay it on thicker.
Why? Because perhaps we have chance of being heard. Faced with "political reality," the politicians need to know that they have the support of the citizens in taking sometimes difficult steps to deal with the climate crisis.
I've already mentioned (here and here) the coming March 2 sit-in at the coal-burning Capital Power Plant in Washington, DC. Well, today, I received an email from a campaigner at Greenpeace asking me to formally add my signature to a letter of support for this action. I did it.
There are powerful constituencies in Washington that will water down the idealism of the coming administration. We need, through actions like this one on March 2, to show the President-elect and his colleagues in the House and Senate that there is an equally strong constituency that wants them to take action on climate.
I'm speaking, of course, of the constituency the incoming politicians were elected to protect--the people of the United States.
For more information on how you can participate on the March 2 action, go here.