SCIENCE BLOGGING!….I feel like I should write something about Netroots Nation, but the truth is that I’ve only been to a single session so far, a (surprisingly) well attended caucus of science bloggers. There was nothing especially bloggable about the session, but I will say that I was a little surprised about how besieged people felt. “We’re totally unorganized while conservatives are an unstoppable juggernaut.” “They play offense while we play defense.” “We’ll be playing catchup for the next two decades.” Etc.
Now, I guess interest groups always feel this way. But the funny thing is that if there’s any area where this really isn’t true, it’s in the confluence of environmental and climate change policy (the main topic of conversation at the session). In these areas, liberals have an enormous, widespread, and well-financed set of both grass roots organizations (think Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Al Gore, etc.) and public interest law groups that have been around for decades. Want to build a refinery, LNG port or nuclear power plant somewhere in the United States? Good luck. You’ll be in court for the rest of your life. Coal-fired power plants aren’t quite at the same stage yet, but they’re getting there.
Or there’s this: “The genius of the Republicans is that for every energy problem, the answer is always drilling in ANWR,” said one attendee admiringly. “Maybe we should adopt some of their methods.” Maybe, but after 40 years, we’re still not drilling in ANWR. Likewise, conservatives may loathe the Endangered Species Act, but it’s still around — and after 40 years of nibbling at it, even right-wing judges have barely made a dent in it. Long story short, maybe those devastating conservative methods aren’t as devastating as we scare ourselves into thinking.
Now, obviously conservatives have had some successes, though for the most part they’ve come in the area of stealth legislation, not head-on battles on big ticket environmental issues (because they know they can’t win those battles). What’s more, the reason they haven’t caused more havoc is because liberal interest groups have fought back hard. Complacency would be disastrous.
Still, it’s taken Herculean obstructionism from the conservative machine over the past seven years just to hold on by their fingertips, a state of affairs that can’t last forever. As they know all too well, when it comes to the environment, the science community is on our side, Hollywood is on our side, and the public is on our side (increasingly so, in fact). Conservatives will continue fighting a furious rearguard action, but just because they haven’t surrendered abjectly doesn’t mean they’re gaining any serious ground. On this issue at least, it’s liberals who are quite clearly on offense and conservatives who are on defense. Just ask any conservative.
I know it’s natural for any interest group to feel like their opponents are an unstoppable monolith, but in this case it’s really not true. It’s just that winning big issues takes a long time. Liberals are pretty clearly on the winning side of this particular battle, and we ought to give ourselves a little more credit for keeping ourselves there.