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Occupy the Climate


Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives may have handed us a victory on the tar sands pipeline. The payroll tax bill signed by President Obama yesterday includes a Republican provision requiring a decision be made on the pipeline within 60 days, not nearly enough time for the State Department to complete an updated environmental review.
 
Without the required review Obama has little choice but to nix the pipeline, according to today’s New York Times. In essence, congressional Republicans handed Obama a reason to say no.
 
Of course, this was not their intent. They want Obama to make the pipeline decision before the 2012 election, thinking this will alienate either youthful and environmentally savvy voters or unions. The question for Republicans has always been not whether the pipeline will be built (according to them global demand for oil makes that inevitable) or where it will end up (exported according to nearly everyone). Their only goal is to deny Obama a second term.
 
Ironically, forcing Obama’s hand has also been a key strategy of pipeline opponents (he alone makes the final decision, not Congress). In November when he put off making the decision until after the election, many of us groaned. With the election behind him (assuming he is elected) we lose all leverage. Think of red warning lights going off in the Obama White House when supporters started showing up in swing states offices demanding he make good on campaign promises to fight global warming and not approve the pipeline. This all goes away after the election.
 
But political maneuverings don’t adequately account for the self-defeating action of congressional Republicans. Tea party policies like raising payroll taxes during an epic recession have a falling-on-your-sword-at-the-end-of-battle feeling. And it seems like Republicans have lost control of their decades-old strategy of tirelessly working to make the radical seem acceptable by advocating the unthinkable.
 
They also maybe looking over their shoulders to what Rebecca Solnit is calling Occupy Wall Street’s currency of compassion. And we know what they think of compassion.
 
My sense is that our worthy oil-soaked opponents are imploding inward, having lost touch with the everyday lives of everyday people. Their old tools of fear, divisive hatreds, greed and envy are losing power. At the same time, a new and strangely familiar world has appeared (reappeared), so far made out of nothing but imagination and youthful passion but capacious with collective prospects, promises and assorted yearnings.
 
We’ve had unexpected help with this well-deserved victory. It may be a sign of an enemy less predictable and weirder that we imagined. Or it could be just a fortuitous anomaly, a banana peel they wouldn’t slip on again.
 

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