Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles and worked in television, I knew an editor- let’s call him Fred. Fred spent most of his day working his fantasy football team, checking the waiver wire, offering and rejecting trades and keeping up on player injuries. He spent little time editing. But he had mastered the art of looking busy. Fred surrounded himself with sheets of paper, just buried his desk in scraps. Whenever someone opened the door to his editing bay, he or she would see Fred swamped in paper, with an anxious look on his face and assume he was busy. Thus, Fred avoided having to show his work for days on end, time he used to focus on the things that mattered to him.
I was reminded of Fred and his tactics when I read President Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan – A Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. Thanks to Fred, I know the tricks. I know window dressing when I see it.
I understand that it is difficult for the President to take bold action these days. Low approval ratings, an obstructionist Congress and a country that still isn’t quite sure if climate change is a real thing reduce the political capital he needs to push through aggressive legislation. And yet having made many campaign promises about the environment, he clearly feels that he must do something. And what’s the next best thing to actually taking action? Giving the appearance of taking action.
The Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions is about the most toothless document I’ve read and I’ve read quite a few memoirs about taffy addiction. Every bullet on the proposal undercuts the Administration’s message with qualifiers or offers mushy details about potential action in the future. For example, as part of the strategy, the EPA will “take public comments on whether to update stands for existing landfills.” When it comes to reducing methane emissions from coal mines, the White House intends to “gather public input on the development of a program.” Why make decisions when we can have a nice, long meeting and talk ourselves to death?
Cow flatulence and manure is a significant contribution to methane emissions. Rather than encourage Americans to eat less beef and drink less milk, which would have the added benefit of improving health, the administration will outline some “voluntary strategies to accelerate adoption of methane digesters.” I suggested a series of voluntary strategies to my bank to help me improve monetary levels in my checking account, such as a no-interest, no-payment-needed line of credit, or having the cashier tossing in a few thousand dollars when I make a withdrawal. So far the good people at Chase have ignored my advice. I expect the dairy industry to react the same to the President’s suggestions.
Likewise, to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, “the Administration will take new actions to encourage additional cost-effective reductions.” What are these exciting new actions you ask? You better fasten your seatbelt, dear reader; the White House is about to get dangerous. As part of these actions, the EPA “will solicit input from independent experts” to “determine how best to pursue further methane reductions” and “work with the industry to expand voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions.”
In retrospect, you did not need to fasten your seatbelt. In fact, you probably don’t even have a seat belt right now. I have no idea why I thought you would. If the previous paragraph inspired you to leave your home or office and purchase a seat belt for your desk chair, I apologize. If you already had a seat belt handy, say because you’re behind the wheel of your car, please PUT DOWN THE PHONE AND WATCH THE ROAD!
Methane traps more than 20 times the heat than other greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. All the objective data shows the Earth is getting warmer and getting warmer fast. Now, whether you believe this worldwide heat wave is manmade or cyclical or simply because God is hugging us too tight, it is happening. If we can make the situation even slightly better by reducing our emissions, we should do it. The White House clearly wants us to think they are serious about fighting climate change. Let me know when they actually get around to doing something. Right now they’re just surrounding themselves with paper and trying to look busy in case anyone drops in. I guess my old buddy Fred found a job at the White House.