We're so past the Roman Empire by now that it's probably time to update the phrase "fiddling while Rome burns." What about, for instance, "writing fake letters ostensibly from real non-profit groups to weaken a climate-change bill while the planet burns"? It's true. According to theNew York Times, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry and utilities trade group, "indirectly hired" a lobbying firm that did just that, sending piteous letters to congressional representatives from, for instance, the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the N.A.A.C.P, claiming: "Many of our members are on tight budgets, and the sizes of their monthly utility bills are important expense items." (Hilary Shelton, the N.A.A.C.P.'s perfectly real senior vice president for advocacy and policy, "called the fake letters 'outrageous.'")
To add insult to injury (or is it to fiddling?), the ACCCE then hired the very lobbying firm that hired the subcontractor that sent out those letters to run a million-dollar campaign to influence Democratic congressional representatives to give the coal industry yet more concessions via further "grass-roots" efforts. ("We're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water here," commented a Coalition spokesperson.) To anyone who has been following the health-care debate, the tactics to be wielded will surely sound remarkably familiar: "The new project will use 225,000 volunteers dubbed 'America's Power Army.' They will visit town hall meetings, fairs and other functions attended by members of Congress and ask questions about energy policy."
As for that burning planet, while the ACCCE's hirees fiddle, the Millennium Project, a Washington-based think-tank supported by the U.N. and other organizations, just issued "2009 State of the Future," a massive 6,700-page report that called on 2,700 experts from 30 countries. With its focus on the condition (perilous) of our burning planet, it got hardly any attention in this country. The report lays out the "seven terrors of the world," of which it ranks climate change as number one, and warns that, in the not-so-long run, civilization itself may be at stake. The report also calls for an Apollo Project-style decade-long effort -- by China and the U.S. in particular -- to tackle the various issues surrounding climate change. But we all know that just ain't gonna happen.
A lot of young people, assumedly thinking about their futures and those of their children in a way their elders have consistently refused to do, have begun to address climate change directly. It's no social movement version of an Apollo Project. Not yet. But Mark Engler, author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy, sees possibilities. (Catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Engler by clicking here.) Tom