Live from San Francisco: Reinventing Green Politics Environmentalist Michael Schellenberger argues that Greens need to stop preaching doom. He says they need an "I Have a Dream" speech, instead of "I Have a Nightmare." In a live broadcast from San Francisco, home of Earth Day, Neal Conan and guests discuss the future of environmentalism.
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Live from San Francisco: Reinventing Green Politics

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Live from San Francisco: Reinventing Green Politics

Live from San Francisco: Reinventing Green Politics

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting live today from the Exploratorium, in San Francisco, California.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Thirty-six years ago, tens of millions of Americans celebrated the first Earth Day at enormous rallies across the country. As a young man I broadcast that day from Union Square in New York City. I looked out onto a vast throng and saw such passion and purpose that I remember thinking, this fight is over. They've won. Within a few years, Congress passed critical legislation including the clean air, clean water, and endangered species acts, and the environmental movement had established itself as a major force in American politics.

As we prepare for another Earth Day this coming weekend, the environmental movement finds itself on the defensive, while overwhelming majorities of Americans agree that the federal government ought to do more to protect an environment that equally large percentages describe as only fair or poor, much of the passion and purpose of the ‘70s has been lost. Some activists go beyond debates on political impotence and argue that environmentalism is better off dead. Today, in the city where Earth Day was first celebrated, we'll talk with thinkers, leaders, and critics about the future of Green Power.

Today is also the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Within hours of that event, refugees were pouring in to the Presidio, which is just across the highway from where we are today. We'll be talking with a Park Ranger about the tent cities that became home to thousands of San Franciscans. But first, what's next for environmentalism? We want to hear from you, whether you're here in the audience in San Francisco or listening across the country. Are you part of the environmental movement? Does it speak for you? Why or why not? Join the conversation. Our number, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is And we begin today with Ted Nordhaus, he's co-founder of American Environics, excuse me, I'll get that right. Welcome. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. TED NORDHAUS (co-founder of American Environics): Good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: About a couple of years ago, you and your colleague, Michael Shellenberger, co-authored a paper provocatively titled, The Death of Environmentalism. Briefly, what did you have in mind?

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, the basic thesis of the essay was that the great ecological challenges that we are faced with today, at a global level, profoundly challenge environmentalism both at a political level and at a conceptual level. And they do it for a couple of reasons. The first is that a affect born of the idea of protecting pristine natural places from human intrusion is ill-suited to dealing with the kinds of complex, human challenges that things like global warming, global habitat destruction, the destruction of the world's oceans, present us with. Where what we really need to do is create a dramatic transformation, to transform the global energy economy, to start coming up with a vision for places in the developing world, like Brazil, that can incorporate both economic development and preservation of the Amazon.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. NORDHAUS: So, the first problem is that. The second is that, that same ethic leads to a politics of limits rather than a politics of possibility. It tends to focus on limiting human activity and human behaviors rather than unleashing human possibility and human potential. And the third is that it places at the center of its politics a whole set of things that are outside of us, a thing called nature, or a thing called the environment, that we're supposed to protect, rather than placing human values, human aspirations, human dreams at the center of its politics. You put those three things together and you get a political movement that has really been unable to figure out what to do in the face of both these ecological challenges. And also a political environment that, as you point out, is vastly different than the one that the environmental movement really came of age in, in the early ‘70s. We're not in 1972 anymore.

CONAN: Well, let's bring another voice into the conversation. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. Thank you also, very much, for joining us.

Mr. CARL POPE (executive director of the Sierra Club): It's great to be here this morning.

CONAN: Are you ready for post-environmentalism?

Mr. POPE: Well, there is a patient on life support, but I think Michael and Ted have the wrong corpse, or quasi-corpse. What's on life support systems truly is the environmental policy process in Washington, D.C., and I would say more than the environmental policy process. We have a virtual reign of terror in federal agencies. We have federal science being shut down and censored. We have Congressional hearings being set up as kangaroo courts. The administration has instructed its agencies not even to answer letters of inquiry from members of Congress unless those inquiries are supported by the Congressional leadership. So, there's nothing happening in Washington. Michael's right.

But remarkably since he, Ted's right, since he and Michael did their essay, if you look at what's happened in the states, the American people are demanding progress, and they're getting it. Idaho just banned coal-fired power plants. Eight states in the northeast have essentially created their own foreign policy, and joined Kyoto, even though the Bush administration won't even talk about it. Ten states, representing 40 percent of the North American auto market, have established their own clean car standards, which will dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. And states as diverse as Illinois, Minnesota, and Georgia have ignored the bush administration to delay cleanup of mercury. The states are moving forward, the cities are moving forward. Washington indeed does seem to be brain-dead, but its not environmentalism that's dying. It's the federal policy process. And Ted's right, we've got to do something about that.

CONAN: Well Ted, in the past, when environmentalism had a distinctly identifiable enemy, it seemed to do pretty well.

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, I think that that depends on your perspective on it. I mean, I think in the past, you know, if you're referring to the James Watts reign of terror, to use Carl's language, you're correct. And in fact, the environmental movement still does very well in all sorts of ways, in terms of its membership, its resources. Its base gets quite mobilized in reaction to the kinds of policies that the Bush administration, for instance, is promoting. The challenge, though, is that when we look at the overall values of the American public and where they're going, you know, environmentalism comes of age in the early ‘70s, at the end of an extraordinary period of economic growth and prosperity. It's not accidental that the sort of great accomplishments at the national level of the environmental movement happened roughly between 1970 and 1975, at the end of what some describe as a sort of post-war liberal consensus in America, that with the oil shocks in the 1970s, profound changes that start happening in the economy and the culture really comes to an end.

And what we've found at the federal level is that we have, you know, over the last 30 years, environmentalists have lost influence in all three branches of government. We still have some ability to advance policies at the state level, but at a federal level, we're confronted with a profound problem, as Carl is right, we need to do something about it. And I think what we're suggesting is that that is not simply a question of coming up with some new tactics or strategies. We need to look at why being an environmentalist, and the core agenda of the environmental movement, is not highly salient to enough Americans for them to essentially demand change, to not accept the kind of actions that the Bush administration and others are taking.

CONAN: And we do want to -- I'll go to you just a minute Carl for a response, but we want to invite listeners, of course, to join us as well. 800.989.8255. 800.989.TALK. E-mail is Carl Pope.

Mr. POPE: Well, quickly, my disagreement is, the premise is, it's not that our concerns are not salient to the American people. The concern about mercury poisoning was obviously salient to the voters of Idaho, who like the president a good deal more than they like the Sierra Club. That they demanded that their state legislature override their governor and ban coal-fired power plants. That's a dramatic change. Our concerns are very salient to the American people. Washington is no longer connected to the concerns of the American people. I think the challenge is as big as Ted says. I think it's different. It's about governance, not about something that's dying of that environmentalism.

CONAN: Governance meaning which level of government you address these issues?

Mr. POPE: Well no, the connection between the federal government and the public. I mean, the fact is, that is not the only issue, frankly, on which Washington is paralyzed and unable to respond to what the public wants, environmental issues, energy policy, health care, pensions. Across the board, the federal government is simply paralyzed. And the American people are turning to cities and states and the private sectors to solve their problems because of that paralysis.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Yet Ted Nordhaus, if, well, you know, think globally, act locally. But on the other hand, there are some issues that really can't be resolved on the local level.

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, I think there are sort of two challenges, and Carl is aware of this as I am, which is that you're obviously not going to address global warming simply through state action. But the question of salience is an important one, and you've got to be clear about what you mean by salience. Yes, if you can get, whether it's in a poll or a state initiative, enough people to simply focus on the question of do you want to do something about mercury, yes, people are with you. But, at another level, when it comes time to make decisions about who you're going to elect at a federal level or at a state level to office, these issues don't become important enough, or salient enough, for voters to say, you know what, we're not going to elect folks who aren't with us on these issues. And that's the salience problem we're faced with.

CONAN: Carl Pope, we just have a minute or so left in this segment, but I wanted to give you a chance to talk about, you know, what's changed in the last two years since Ted Nordhaus and his partner introduced this essay. Has there been a rethink? Or, you argued in an essay that you published, that indeed, many of their thoughts had already been incorporated into the movement.

Mr. POPE: Well, I think what you're seeing is a reassembling of the natural environmental majority, which came together in the 1970s, as you said Neal. And was then, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, consciously splintered by an effort by the reactionary right to split off people like hunters and fishers, small town church goers, people in rural America, culturally, even thought they, in fact, share concerns about mercury, about grotesque factory feed lots, about global warming. What's happening at the state level now is that national environmental majority is being reassembled. The fact is, those Idaho state senators who voted to ban coal weren't elected to ban coal, but once elected they realized their public demanded it of them and they acted.

CONAN: We're talking about the future of the environmental movement in the city that helped start it all. We'll take your calls after a short break. 800-989-8255. I'm Neal Conan, live from San Francisco, California. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.

(Soundbite of applause)

We're broadcasting live today from The Exploratorium in San Francisco. We're talking about the future of environmentalism. Most Americans say they care about the environment, yet many environmental issues seem to be losing, especially in Washington D.C. Give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is Our guests are Ted Nordhaus, co-author of an essay titled The Death of Environmentalism, and Carl Pope, executive director of The Sierra Club. And let's get a question from the audience here in San Francisco. If you'd just step up to that microphone there.

ANNA (Audience member): Hi. My name's Anna from Oakland.


ANNA: And my question is, is there any federal legislation that's currently being considered that would herd the operative states to make these important, local decisions to protect our environment?

CONAN: Carl Pope?

Mr. POPE: Oh yes. The Congressional leadership in the Bush administration officially believe in state's rights, but the reality is any opportunity they can, if they see states exercising leadership in the public interest, they take that power away from the states. For example, the House passed, the Senate is considering, legislation which would take away from states the right to set higher food safety standards than the federal government. That happens to be aimed at a California law I helped write, Proposition 65. Their auto industry's also asking Congress to take away from states the right to set tougher clean air standards for cars. And there is a whole host of these preemptive activities by people who call themselves conservatives, claim to believe in state's rights, but are actually reactionaries who simply do what their campaign contributors want them to do.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another call in. This is Lori, and Lori's calling us from Boulder, Colorado.

LORI (Caller): Hi. I've personally been somewhat unhappy with the Sierra Club, and mostly regarding a local debate that's going on in Boulder regarding our open space lands. And a lot of the environmental groups, their position is, you know, the open space lands, they should be kept for wildlife, they should be, you know, to preserve the natural environment. And on the other side of the debate is that people want to use the land, we want to hike on them, we want to rock climb, and walk our dogs. And some groups like the Sierra Club seem to feel that there's a conflict there. And our position is that, you know, hiking, preserving the land for passive recreational use is saving the land. And the Sierra Club, by taking such an extreme position on this, is alienating its own supporters. And people like me, I no longer want to support the Sierra Club because they're choosing the wrong battles in my opinion.

CONAN: Well, Carl Pope, we'll get a response from you. Obviously, this is a local issue in Colorado, but not dissimilar from other issues around the country.

Mr. POPE: Well, I think the facts, and I don't know the facts, so I really can't comment, are terribly important. There are lands where, in fact, rock climbing and walking dogs is perfectly compatible with, for example, the wildlife resources. There are other kinds of places, and I don't know these locations in Boulder, where in fact, you have nesting species or very sensitive ecological circumstances where that would actually be damaging. So, I think you have to look at the facts and I'm sure the Sierra Club sometimes makes mistakes. We are a human organization made of human beings and I suspect no member of the Sierra Club, including me, agrees with every stand we take.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Ted Nordhaus though, a part of the problem that you identified in your paper was, in fact, that a lot of Americans viewed environmentalists in general, we're not talking specifically about the Sierra Club here, as too extreme.

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, I think that the problem that the caller raises, or points out, is typical of the problems. And for a group like the Sierra Club, in Carl's defense, it's a highly democratic organization which has great strengths. It also has some weaknesses. One of which is that it becomes an umbrella under which all sorts of agendas, from immigration to historic preservation, to hikers who want to keep mountain bikers or dogs off the trails that they like, use, and use to sort of invoke ecological concern as a sort of thinly veiled cover for particular uses of land or other resources that they want to privilege for things that they consider to be higher priorities. And what you end up with is tremendous confusion about what environmentalists, what environmentalism is, who environmentalists are, and what we think is really important.

CONAN: All right. Lori thanks very much for the call.

LORI: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we get another question here from the audience in San Francisco.

NEWT (Audience member): My name is Newt. I'm from Kensington, next to Berkley, across the Bay. And I'd like to know how environmentalists can use the current and continuing oil price crisis to facilitate more rapid development of alternative energy, wind, geothermal, tidal, whatever. It's those kind of grass roots. How do we, as individuals, participate in moving in that direction, because clearly, the government is not going there.

CONAN: All right, Newt, can I ask you, are you rooting for higher oil prices at this point?

NEWT: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. I take it you're not running for office anywhere.


CONAN: Okay. Why don't we get a response? Carl Pope?

Mr. POPE: Well, I think the opportunity is -- the reality is if you read carefully the annual reports of Exxon Mobil, they clearly anticipate very major, long term increases in the price of oil. Anybody who thinks cheap oil is the American future is not reading the annual reports of the oil company. Cheap oil's history. Oil's going to be expensive and we have two choices. We can get ready now to replace it, quickly and with minimum economic disruption, or we can wait until we get hit over the head once again as, actually, is happening this morning with the price of oil at $70 a barrel. I think the opportunity for every city is we have a program called Cool Cities or Cool Campuses. Almost any American institution can begin to wean itself from oil right now without depending on the federal government. There are lots of choices out there. And I offer, as an example of a corporation that I'm frequently critical of, which is Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has clearly decided that they don't want to be trapped by high oil prices, and they're making a whole series on investments to reduce the consumption of oil by their entire business processes, because they know oil's going to get to be expensive. And individuals, towns, churches, companies, each one can look at its energy use and can start saying, what investments can I make this year that will pay off whether or not the price of oil goes off because there are lots. But when the price of oil goes off, will become the best investments I ever made. Look for your investment opportunities based on your consumption.

CONAN: All right.

Mr. POPE: And energy efficiency is where the big payoff is. The big payoff is using less energy to get the same energy services.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Michael Gelobter, executive director of Redefining Progress, nice to have you here on the panel with us today.

Mr. MICHAEL GELOBTER (Executive director, Redefining Progress; co-author, The Soul of Environmentalism: Rediscovering Transformational Politics in the 21st Century): Thanks, pleasure to be here.

CONAN: A year ago, you co-wrote an article somewhat in response to Ted Nordhaus' article called The Soul of Environmentalism: Rediscovering Transformational Politics in the 21st Century. In it you said the problems facing environmentalism today are eerily similar to those facing the Civil Rights movement two decades ago.

Mr. GELOBTER: Absolutely. I mean, you know, we're sitting here today on the 100th anniversary, it's why you're in San Francisco, 100th anniversary of the earthquake. Imagine 100 years from now, another city that was struck just a few months ago, New Orleans, and what does the politics have to look like to take it back to the kind of vitality that we have here in San Francisco today? It's an environmental movement that ensures that young people who are from New Orleans are touring Venice and Amsterdam so they can come back and tell the Army Corp of Engineers how to make their city as safe as those cities that have survived for hundreds of years.

It's an environmental movement and a broader movement that restores the Mississippi to its natural course to protect the Gulf Coast. It's also an environmental movement that ensures that a city like New Orleans, just like San Francisco, is rebuilt by local people, people from that place who are being unionized, maybe being paid a wage that's living, a living wage. It's a movement that helps people to vote, to ensure that there's not masses and franchise and that maybe we double the turnout in '04. So the movement really has to change to really encompass a movement that's about, not just the environment, but about what happened in New Orleans. If we erase the lines between the environment, between social justice, between communities and the environment to show that the world is really of one and we have to act in lots of ways together to build a movement and to build better cities and a better country.

CONAN: Yet another comparison though, is after the great legislative victories of the ‘60s, after the Civil Rights movement, some of the same things happened as happened with environmentalism. There was atomization, there was fractionalization, there was feuding, if you will. And the loss of that grand sense of purpose once the great pieces of legislation had been passed.

Mr. GELOBTER: Absolutely. I mean the fact is that we have to go back to what lies underneath all of this, which is really America is a community of care. We're a community that believes in hard work, we're a community that believes in ingenuity. We also have to be a community that cares about the future, about each other, about future generations. And that kind of approach was essential to the ‘60s. We started losing it in the ‘70s because of individualization, like you said atomization. We have to come back together as a community whether it's around oil dependency or around rebuilding cities like New Orleans.

CONAN: Let's get another question from the audience here in San Francisco.

TATIANA (ph) (Caller): Yes, speaking of the next generation. I'm Tatiana Harrison and I'm from Santa Rosa. I work with teenagers and I often see their eyes sort of glaze over when it comes to the word environmentalism and environmental issues. And I'm wondering, it seems like the movement is about them more than anyone else, since it is about the future, and also, it seems like they need to get on board to keep the movement going. So I'm wondering what concrete themes, or perhaps erasing the lines that you were talking about, Michael, how to jazz it up and kind of make it more relevant for, you know, the kids like that came with me today and that are out there.

Mr. GELOBTER: We're the host to something called the Climate Justice Corps, which is training this year's 700 young people and really in the campaign we call Katrina No More, which is aimed at training a wide range of Americans to work on these issues. I mean, the fact is, unfortunate as it is, we're going to be fighting the oil companies 50 years from now. It's going to take a long time to break what President Bush calls the oil addiction, and we need to start thinking about that next generation, so they can get engaged in efficiency, get engaged in political activism, they can get engaged in caring for places like New Orleans, spending part of the summer there, spending places in California that are vulnerable, working on the vulnerabilities here. So the Climate Justice Corps is one place where lots of youth activist groups, the C.R. Club has student groups, there're high school groups. There's lots of places to get engaged. The key really is not to be at all ashamed about claiming the future. It does belong to all of us. It belongs especially to our children and we're endangering it, whether it's here at home or through wars for resources overseas.

CONAN: Thank you, Tatiana. Let's bring in another guest now. Margo Thorning, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for the American Council for Capitol Formation. Thanks very much for being with us today.

MARGO THORNING (Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, American Council for Capitol Formation): My pleasure.

CONAN: I wonder, we've been listening to three people who, obviously they have their disagreements as we've heard, but broadly agree on a lot of things. As you look at the environmentalist movement today, do you think it corresponds to the desires of most Americans?

Ms. THORNING: I think if we take a look at the last 20, 30 years in the U.S., the environmental movement has achieved significant progress in terms of improvements in clear air, clean water, and a focus on things that clearly need to be addressed. The thing I would suggest to the environmental movement is that they pay more attention to cost benefit analysis. We need to address, continue to address in the U.S., a variety of environmental challenges, but we have to think of balancing the costs of moving in one direction against what that will do to our ability to fund other social needs. So for example, the reason that the Senate in 1997 voted not to support the Kyoto Protocol was because they had seen economic models from a variety of sources, macroeconomic models, that suggested or showed that the cost of reducing emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels to the U.S. would be anywhere from four percent less annual G.D.P. in 2010, to you know, one or two percent depending on who's model. So they...

CONAN: Somebody could argue that they looked and didn't count the votes in the Senate.

Ms. THORNING: Well, the, the Senate did vote 95 to nothing, not to support the U.S. signing of the Kyoto Protocol. So, they were looking at cost. They knew that if the U.S. signed the Keota protocol, there would be almost no impact on global emissions because the growth in global carbon emissions is coming from China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, places like that. The developed world is becoming more energy efficient all the time. So, weighing the costs and the benefits, the Senate said, we need another approach. The current Bush administration approach focuses on reducing emissions intensity, the amount of energy used per dollar of output. And the U.S. is on track to meet the Bush administration's target of an 18 percent reduction in emissions intensity by 2010.

One last thing, the European Union which has mandatory cap and trade system, has managed to reduce its energy intensity only seven percent in the last five years. Over the last five years, the U.S. has reduced energy intensity by 12 percent. The reason we're able to do a better job than the Europeans, even though we have a voluntary approach, is that we're growing faster, three or three and a half percent a year. They're growing at one percent. We're pulling through cleaner, more efficient technologies much more rapidly. So economic growth can actually be a plus, a positive for improving environmental quality. Also, in 2005, the U.S. used less energy than before, even though we're growing at over three percent. So that's a...

CONAN: We're discussing the future of environmentalism and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off there. Let's see if we can get another caller in on this issue. This is Brian. Brian's calling from Raleigh, North Carolina.

BRIAN (Caller): Yes, hi, how are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

BRIAN: Thanks for taking my call. I guess I just had a quick comment, and then a sort of a comment slash question to pose for the folks here. My first comment is, I'm a little discouraged. I'm a geologist actually. I've been in the energy field for some time and now I'm a consultant. I've been very discouraged by the amount of splintering and fragmentation in the environmental movement. I used to give a lot of money to Sierra Club and several other organizations, and just literally stopped as I felt that they were essentially too watered down and my dollars were better spent elsewhere. That's, if you could comment on that after I pose this next point.

CONAN: And if you'd do that quickly. Thanks.

BRIAN: Yeah, really quickly here. The second point is, I think at a federal level, rather than air, water, or soil legislation, it may be more beneficial for our government to enact more of a use tax, or a use cost, associated with any good, anything that we buy essentially there's an environmental cost associated with it.

CONAN: All right.

BRIAN: So if you could comment on that, I'd really appreciate it.

CONAN: Okay, we just have a couple of minutes before we have to go to a break but Michael Gelobter, on the...

Mr. GELOBTER: Well, let me just fraction on Dr. Thorning's last comment and the question here. The fact is, breaking our, what the president calls our addiction to oil, is good for our economy. And unfortunately, those Senators were acting more like addicts than economists. At the same time they voted that our organization, Redefining Progress, had gotten more economists than have ever signed any letter in history to say it would be good for the U.S. economy to break that addiction and to take action on climate change. The kind of use fee you're talking about is exactly right. If we follow a true market mechanism, where we get polluters to pay for their pollution, it turns out we generate 1.2 million jobs by taking action on climate change over the next 20 years, and actually level the economy, make it more just for everybody. Because everybody here is paying the price of oil addiction, from businesses to communities to low income people.

CONAN: Margo, I'll give you the last 30 seconds before we have to go to a break.

Ms. THORNING: I think it's important that you look at the type of model being used and most of the studies, a preponderance of studies using a macroeconomic top down model, which measures the impact of energy prices as they rise and as they flow through the economy, suggests that it's very costly in the near term and will reduce G.D.P. and will reduce employment. So the models that Mike was talking about are bottoms up models which really don't reflect the actual cost of adjusting in the short run to higher energy prices. And so I think, and I commend people to look at the A.C.C.F. web site. There's a paper called, which I've produced for the governor's summit last year in San Francisco, last week in San Francisco...

CONAN: And I'm sure they can find it on the web site.

Mr. GELOBTER: They won't find the million dollars that they got from Exxon on that web site unfortunately.

CONAN: All right. Anyway, we'll have to leave that disagreement until after the break. We're talking about the future of environmentalism. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in San Francisco. Right now, we're broadcasting live from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. This is the town where Earth Day was first celebrated. 36 years later, the environmental movement is trying to recharge itself. Our guests are Ted Nordhaus, a co-founder of American Environics, Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Michael Gelobter, Executive Director of Redefining Progress, and Margo Thorning, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the American Council for Capitol Formation. And let's see if we can get another question in. And this will go to a caller. If you'd like to join us by the way, it's 800-989-8255. E-mail is and, whoops, let's get a question from the audience here in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JACK (Audience member): Neal, my name is Jack. I live in Larkspur across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.

CONAN: Hi, Jack.

JACK: Glad to have you here. We follow your show every day.

CONAN: Thank you.

JACK: I have a political question. I've been really deeply dismayed to see how the anti-environmentalists have risen to power, especially in the Congress, lead by one of our California legislators, Richard Pombo...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

JACK: ...who's been trying to undermine or get rid of the essential features of the endangered species act. I guess my question is to the environmental organizations, how has this happened? Have you run out of money? Have you run out of focus? How have you failed to energize the vote that could support pro-environmentalists in Congress, and is there a change that you can see in works? Thanks.

CONAN: Carl Pope, I guess that goes to you.

Mr. POPE: Well, I think Mr. Pombo's going to have a very interesting race this year. He is facing a Republican primary challenge from Pete McCloskey, who was the Congressman from Santa Clara who actually created Earth Day, and also challenged President Nixon over the war in Vietnam. What's happened politically really has been that the reasonable mainstream environmental voice has been driven out of the Republican party and combined with mal-apportionment and gerrymandering that has given reactionaries a disproportionate voice in Congress. I think as you look at the run up to this fall's election, with somebody like Pombo who's never faced a serious challenge, even in the general election, now facing a serious challenge both in the general election and in his primary, we're discovering in the district that almost none of his voters understand, for example, that Mr. Pombo is trying to sell off national parks. None of them understand that Mr. Pombo wanted to let mining companies take over part of Yosemite. None of them understand...

CONAN: Mr. Pombo's not here to defend himself and we're not focusing on this particular race...

Mr. POPE: All right, well...

CONAN: But I can understand that you, you disagree with him sharply.

Mr. POPE: But in any event, the point I was making is that I think the fact he's going to be facing a very serious challenge is a sign of a political change in the winds in a direction that I think you'll like.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get another caller in and see if this is working now. Ron. Ron is with us from Louisville, Kentucky.

RON (Caller): Yes. Yes, my question is, doesn't it come down to the powering, the power of the corporate lobbyists versus the environmental lobbyists?

CONAN: Does it come down to the power of lobbyists, Ted Nordhaus?

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, clearly the lobbies on both sides have had their successes and failures, but ultimately it's the underlying values in the culture that define what is possible in politics and what is not possible. And even in the Clinton years when you had an administration that was much more amenable to the kinds of solutions that environmentalists advocate, there was an underlying values environment that was constraining the ability to enact those kind of solutions. It has empowered the Bush administration. Even had John Kerry got himself elected in 2004, it would have constrained what Kerry was able to do. And frankly, even if we get rid of a few of the more extreme anti-environmental voices in Congress, I think that underlying values environment, one which is profoundly different than the one in which the environmental movement came of age, is going to continue to constrain our ability to take the kinds of actions we think need to be taken. Until we do something to sort of move the underlying values in the country.

CONAN: Margot Thorning, let me ask you, do you buy this thesis, that indeed there's this pent-up desire that is somehow being thwarted?

Ms. THORNING: I think that's not the case. If you look at polls of the American public, environmental issues rate, rank fairly far down, behind terrorism, behind education, crime, and other issues. But I think what's happening, at least in Washington, is that there is a desire to balance the need to improve the environment with a desire to promote strong economic growth that will enable the U.S. to maintain and increase its standard of living. And the data are really in disputable, that near-term reductions, for example, in carbon emissions will cost jobs, will cost growth. If it were so profitable to go forward with some of the proposals that, for example, Michael's group is supporting, the market would take us there. You don't need government legislation to drive you towards something that will save you energy in a cost-effective way. The market would provide those solutions. So, I don't think it's appropriate to say that it's a battle of one lobbyist against another. It's a question of finding a middle ground, a way of preserving economic growth, and gradually improving on many environmental fronts.

And I think the proposal, the plans that the administration has put in place are moving us in a positive direction, including the Asia-Pacific partnership, which was signed by China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the U.S. last July. The focus of the Asia-Pacific partnership is to promote development and cleaner energy use. And if we can make major reductions in the amount of energy per dollar of output in China, India, and the other developing countries, we'll make a huge contribution to reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

CONAN: I could see a couple of people eager to leap in. Carl Pope, you first, and then we'll go to Ted Nordhaus.

Mr. POPE: Very quickly. The market won't take you where the public wants to go if the government is subsidizing activities that neither the market nor the public wants. We're hearing talk of a revival of nuclear power. New nuclear power plants are being proposed. They're not being proposed by Wall Street, they're being proposed because Congress has given billions of dollars in loan guarantees, so that if you build a nuclear power plant, even if it doesn't work, and even if it's not economically competitive, you still make a profit. So, of course, somebody's going to build one. We ought to get the subsidies out of the system. We ought to make people pay for what they take from our common resources. And then we'll see where the market takes us.

CONAN: Ted Nordhaus.

Mr. NORDHAUS: Well, I think that both the low salience of environmental issues compared to other issues, and the kind of false debate that we see going on here between conservatives and environmentalists, are both consequences of the conceptual limitations of environmentalism itself. It's what happens when you get yourself into this kind of politics of limits. First of all, the kinds of proposals you get into end up focusing on limiting activity rather than promoting the kinds of human activities that you want to promote, economically and otherwise. And secondly, you get into, sort of, talking about things that are pretty far from the center of people's world views, whether it's terrorism, healthcare, the economy, any number of things. What we have proposed, and have sort of said that is what we need to do, is to sort of get these kinds of concerns, and get our proposals out of this environmental ghetto, and move them into a place which is much more sort of centrally located in people's lives and world views. And when you do that, you avoid both this false economic debate, and all the salience problems that you get trapped in, in sort of trying, insisting on talking to the public about environmental issues.

CONAN: Okay, Michael Gelobter, we'll give you the last word here.

Mr. GELOBTER: I mean, I think the answer of the question, corporate versus environmental lobbyists, the answer is no, it's about people power. It's about the same kind of ingenuity that got us, got San Francisco back to where it is today 100 years from, from a terrible disaster. And it's about getting ourselves as voters and as citizens out of wars and out of oil so that we have a healthier future.

CONAN: And I want to thank you all very much for joining us today. Obviously we could go on with this discussion for hours, but it's been fascinating to have you with us. We appreciate your time.

ALL: Thank you.

CONAN: I'd like to thank our guests, Ted Nordhaus, is co-founder of American Environics, and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Gelobter, executive director of Redefining Progress, and Margot Thorning is chief economist and Senior Vice President of the American Counsel for Capital Formation. Thanks to you all. Appreciate it.

Mr. POPE: Thank you, very much.

Mr. NORDHAUS It's been a pleasure.

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