At a global warming forum in Brentwood today, as Hillary Clinton expounded onstage about the need to elect more Democrats to advance an environmental agenda, an anti-war protester in the audience started shouting at her.
Finally and somewhat indignantly, she stopped and said to the man, “Were you invited to speak here this afternoon?”
Soon security hauled him out, kicking and screaming.
It was a reminder of the politics of Los Angeles’ Westside, a mix of limousine liberals, unabashed progressives and perpetual protesters, and perhaps the most fitting place to hold what was billed as the first such presidential campaign forum on the climate crisis.
Few other places in the country have embraced environmentalism with such evangelical zeal, backed up by potent fund-raising and activism, even to the of point ridicule or under scrutiny for hypocrisy. So I felt a little sheepish in arriving at the event and being instructed to park my car on a grass lawn.
Sponsored by Grist, an online environmental magazine, and Public Radio Intl.’s “Living on Earth,” as well as a smorgasbord of environmental organizations, the event was an effort to ensure that global warming at the top of the campaign agenda.
Grist’s Dave Roberts, one of the panelists, groused that even with all of the attention given to global warming, including a dire U.N. report unveiled today that warns of massive environmental peril by 2020, the national media is spending precious time on the issue. Of some 300 questions that Tim Russert has asked of candidates on “Meet the Press,” “the words climate change and global warming have not passed through his lips a single time.”
All of the candidates were invited, but only Clinton, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich bothered to attend. (Actually, other candidates cited scheduling conflicts). All present preached the urgency of global warming. All pitched comprehensive plans to solve the crisis. All spoke of turning it into an opportunity to create eco-jobs. (Clinton called them “green collar.” Kucinich talked of creating a New Deal-like Works Green Administration. Edwards touted a “New Energy Economy”).
So moderator Steve Kerwood pressed each of the candidates on just how they would carry these plans out — after all even George H.W. Bush had an environmental imperative, but the country just continued to consume.
“The only thing that limits us is out thinking,” said Kucinich, markedly dressed in an earth tone suede blazer. He talked of bypassing Congress and taking his plan to the people. He’d do away with coal, oil and nuclear power, replacing jobs lost with some compensation to workers in those industries, in part via what he calls a “guaranteed income” for all Americans.
Clinton, wearing a brown pantsuit and turquoise necklace, proposed an 80% drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a cut in oil imports by 2/3, and some 5 million new jobs from new clean energy industries, among a laundry list of items. She even talked of “carbon energy bonds,” sold like those in World War II, to help pay for this transition.
“We cannot afford to fiddle while the world warms,” she said.
Kerwood, however, noted that Bush I, Bill Clinton and Bush II also came into office with an environmental agenda, only to fall short (way short in the latter case).
Kerwood started to say, “Every one of these men…”
“That’s the problem to start with,” Hillary interjected, to audience laughs. It was a safe use of the gender card.
Seriously, though. Clinton’s message was that it will take is experience and strength and savvy to push these changes through. As an example, she pointed to Margaret Thatcher, who gathered world leaders together to forge a stronger plan to curb CFCs from depleting the ozone layer.
What’s more, “there is a much greater readiness in the political system.”
He too, proposes dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas pollution: of 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. He’d raise $13 billion a year by auctioning off the right to emit greenhouse gas pollution and repealing subsidies for oil companies, among other proposals. He talked of “sacrifice” and suggested that “carbon caps will have an impact on the cost of fossil fuels.”
But his plan, he suggested, is contingent on changing the “corrupt” government. That in and of itself gave him the opportunity to drift into a wide range of campaign themes, from ending the war in Iraq as a way to restore U.S. credibility to fight global warming, to providing for the public financing of elections. And he acknowledged the difficult media environment to get serious issues to the forefront.
At the presidential debates “we spend more time talking about polls and sniping than global warming,” he said.
At one point, he even took aim at media conglomeration — i.e. too few companies set a news agenda that ignores the problem.
“Just as an aside, I don’t personally want Rupert Murdoch to own every newspaper in this country,” he said.
That played well to the crowd.
In fact, by the end of his portion of the forum, he had covered so many bases it almost felt like an Edwards pep rally, perhaps one of the perks of speaking last. Unlike at Thursday night’s debate, he didn’t attack Clinton directly on stage. But later, he did get in a dig. After a hasty retreat from the pressroom podium by Clinton surrogate Carol Browner, Edwards got on stage. He referred to Clinton’s position on nuclear power.
“I don’t know if she’s changed her position…” he said. “Sen. Clinton said she is either neutral or agnostic, whatever that means.”
But for all the enviro-speak, where Edwards found himself at a bit of a loss was when one reporter asked him about the proposed Los Angeles “Subway to the Sea,” which under one scenario would go right by the Wadsworth Theater, and potentially put thousands of commuters onto trains and not in their cars. No need to drive to such forums. No need to park on green grass.
Although mass transit plays a big part in his plan, of the subway, “I don’t know a great deal about it.”
Chances are, he will know soon enough.