America 2021: What's Next on Climate?

A Climate & Energy Roundtable
June 2011

Manik Roy, Vice President for Federal Government Outreach at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, participated in a roundtable discussion about where U.S. climate and energy policy will be in the year 2021. The event also included Joe Aldy, assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and a nonresident fellow at Resources for the Future; Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center and visiting professor at Georgetown Law; Alex Laskey, president and founder of OPOWER; and Lexi Schultz, legislative director for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Bryan Walsh of Time magazine moderated their discussion.

Below are excerpts of Roy's comments. For a detailed transcript of the discussion, click here.

Q: What are the priorities and actions on energy and climate policy in 2021?

Manik Roy: In the next few years, we will not be putting together the optimal climate policy. Instead we’ll be doing things in chunks. I’m assuming the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act will survive, and we will do what we can under that law. But I don’t think our efforts will be as good as what many of us were trying to do. By 2021, we’ll recognize that what we’ve been doing is not the best approach for either the environment or the economy, and we’ll be trying to fix it.

Q: As a soceity, what are the appropriate actions to take to reduce the risks associated with climate change?

Roy: When we ask that question, we have in mind this sort of mythical “public.” But there is no “public”—there are people and each person has different concerns, interests, and beliefs.

It’s interesting to look at how the other side has worked this issue. They’ve created this overlapping series of misrepresentations: “Climate change isn’t happening.” “It is happening, but it isn’t human caused.” “It is human caused but it isn’t going to be a big deal.” “It is going to be a big deal but we can’t afford to do anything about it.” “Well, we can afford it but we’re not going to do it until China does something about it.”

They have these overlapping, mutually contradictory stories, each of which activates a different member of the public out there. We have to do the same thing, but with truth. We should be talking about science, about solutions, about competitiveness with other countries, about the benefits of reducing pollution. I don’t think we should stop talking about anything. The other side has shamed us, and we shouldn’t be ashamed. We have an accurate story to tell.

Q:  Was the failure to pass federal cap-and-trade legislation attributable to our politics, or was it indicative of something about that policy that needs to be changed?

Roy: A couple big things happened. One is that we had a terrible economy. It’s very tough to pass major environmental legislation in a bad economy. And the other thing is, frankly, it’s tough to pass major environmental legislation under a Democratic president, because the moderates of either party tend to run from their president when their president is in office. That tends to be true when Republicans are in office, which is why almost all of our major environmental laws—the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, our hazardous waste laws—were passed under Republican presidents. And it has been true when Democrats are in office, which is why we rarely pass tough environmental legislation under Democratic presidents.

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