Bullies and Bystanders

The Climate Bullies

When I was in 6th grade, I fell victim to the school bully.  I was new to the school and became an easy target for an 8th grade girl with a bad attitude.  She picked on me endlessly while other kids stood by and watched.  I was humiliated, scared and completely at a loss about what I should do.  

Thankfully I had eventually made some decent friends and one day when the resident bully showed up one of them stepped in and told her to stop. Others quickly backed her up; the bully went away and never bothered me again.

My experience with bullying is far from unique. Bullies get away with their behavior over and over again….In our schools, in our offices and even in Congress.

What gives bullies their power? It certainly isn’t the victim. And it isn’t even the bully. Instead, those with the most power, the ones who can usually make the bullying stop, are the people on the sidelines.

I have been thinking about this phenomenon as I watch the climate debate in the Senate. I see the climate bill itself (and those of us who are pushing for it) in the role of victim; the fossil fuel industry and the Tea Party are the bullies. The bystanders in this situation are the Senators who aren’t doing much of anything on climate either way.  It isn’t hard to spot them, but it has been hard to get them to stand up.

In the face of a crisis like global warming, we don’t need quiet witnesses. We need bold heroes to step in, stop the fight, and solve the problem. We need lawmakers to say that now is the time to confront the crisis and jumpstart America’s economy.

It all starts with standing up to the bullies.

Consider the Tea Party. These are the bullies who spun health care reform – something that is still supported by the majority of Americans – into a sordid deal. Now they are going after climate legislation.

At the Tea Party Convention in Nashville last week, global warming skeptic Steve Milloy criticized Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for working with Democratic Senator John Kerry (D-MA) on a bipartisan climate bill. Then he went so far as to call supporters of strong climate legislation “bad people” with questionable sanity and morals.

And then there are the fossil fuel industries. They bully with money: oil and gas companies spent at least $154 million on lobbying in 2009.  That doesn’t even take into account their political donations.

Intimidation and deep pockets are powerful forces, but I do hope those senators who are standing by on climate — many of whom intend to ultimately support a bill — realize that this is an opportunity to take a bold stand, to support strong legislation that represents our best tool for generating 2 million new jobs and making America more secure.

Voters love problem solvers; passing clean energy and climate legislation would give senators a chance to fix our economy, clean up our environment, and strengthen our national security.

For instance, Americans spent a record $450 billion on imported oil in 2008. That’s $1,400 for every man, woman, and child in this country sent to places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria. Passing a clean energy and climate bill would keep a good chunk of that money invested in America.

These are the kind of solutions Americans will vote for right now.

I hope the senators who have been on the sidelines will step in on behalf of all Americans so the bullies don’t have the power anymore. If they continue to sit and do nothing, they will in their own way be as much to blame as the deniers, because both of them are impeding progress. The deniers do it noisily with malice, the bystanders do it quietly and often with good intentions, but both are doing a disservice to our nation.

No one said solving the biggest crisis of our time would be easy, but someone needs to stand up to the bullies.