“There’s no ‘burnable carbon’. We need massive reductions & sustainable infrastructure.”

As in previous years, I again lined up a series of Five Questions interviews at Netroots Nation. This year’s group includes House Democrat Keith Ellison, co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Democratic strategist and activist Robert Cruickshank; and economist Dr. Stephanie Kelton.

Cruickshank and I spoke in the middle of the exhibit hall, which explains the background sound. The interview is clear however. I started, as usual, asking about “burnable carbon” and the climate crisis — which, if you haven’t noticed, is already upon us. His reply was simple — no burnable carbon, period. Good to hear, and good to hear the reasons.

The interview is here:

Use the following to guide you, if you want to jump to one of the sections.

To the question — What should we do to stop this? — Cruickshank replies (at 4:45):

This is where a clear strategy and a clear message is really valuable. There’s always a temptation to say, “Well, if we have this really complicated policy formula that works exactly as planned, without change or alteration, we might be able to have some form of burnable carbon and not sacrifice ourselves to major problems in the future.”

But we know that profit incentive for burning carbon is so high, that even if you set up a system that looks to us like it could work, it’s going to be gamed and exploited and used by people who want to profit off of burning carbon.

So I think for climate activists, the “ask,” to me, is what it has always been. Let’s go on the path to reducing carbon emissions. Let’s not be burning any new carbon reserves. Leave that coal in the ground. Leave that oil in the ground. And instead spend our money building things that will put us [on a path to] sustainable infrastructure.

My follow-up: That’s the Ask. What’s the Do? His answer: There are lots of doable local actions — Divestment. Stop coal and oil trains. Stop the construction of new oil and coal export terminals. (Chris Hayes’ piece “The New Abolitionism,” which he references, is an excellent read, by the way.)

The answer to question four — “What to do about Hillary, corporate Dems and electoral blackmail?” — comes at 12:52. Jump there if you like. As he said, he’s answering for both himself and the Howard Dean–founded group DFA (Democracy for America) at this point.

That led, at 18:14, to this — “If you don’t get what you want, what are you willing to threaten in order to turn up the heat (on Dem candidates)?” His answer involved primaries — good so far. But how far would he personally go? In 2008, Cruickshank says, for example, he would have advised killing the ACA if the Public Option was left on the table. I call that “taking credible hostages” — something the other side really wants — then acting forcefully if they don’t respond to the threat. Cruickshank calls that “overturning the table and walking away.”

For example (at 24:29), he and DFA seem willing to support a “Matt Damon” type candidate — a viable “someone with nothing to lose” — in the 2016 primary, should that person arise, as a way for Dem voters to say No to “four more years” of privatizing corp-Dem rule.

Listen at 25:40 to hear his personal journey, how he went from Rush Limbaugh Republican (as a teen) to leftwing activist. A fascinating, and not uncommon, story. As I told him, “We all stray young.”

Next and last interview will be with Dr. Stephanie Kelton, a leading economist and part of the cutting edge “Modern Monetary Theory” school of economic thought. Stay tuned for that — it contains a truly startling, and surprisingly workable, alternative to a mandated minimum wage or even minimum working conditions laws.

The previous interview, with Representative Keith Ellison, is here.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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