The focus in these waning days of the Do Nothing 112th Congress is on avoiding the Fiscal Cliff. But that is only a minor blip compared to what awaits this country – this planet – if attention is not paid to climate change.
Besides the Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire by the end of year, so are the tax credits for renewable wind energy development. The availability of the credits, amounting to a 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) benefit for the first ten years of a renewable energy facility’s operation. enabled the wind industry to double in size under Obama.
“Originally enacted as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, there have been four extensions of the provision, and on three occasions it has been allowed to sunset. This “on-again/off-again” status contributes to a boom-bust cycle of development that plagues the wind industry,” the Union of Concerned Scientists stated.
This will be the first test of whether or not Obama’s legacy will include finally moving this country to address climate change that not only threatens our communities, our nation, but our planet.
But that is only the tip of the (melting) iceberg.
Indeed, Obama is also being pressed to give his blessing to the Keystone Pipeline and I wouldn’t be surprised if this surfaces as a bargaining chip.
“Tar sands are ‘game over’ for the climate,” says Think Progress. “Canada’s tar sands, which Keystone XL would carry, could contain double the carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in history—and green lighting the pipeline that would carry them to the global market would be disastrous for climate change.”
What is stunning is that the Obama Administration seems to recognize the urgency of addressing climate change – but in an international context. During his trip to Pacific countries last week, Obama forged a U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Partnership For A Sustainable Energy Future.
“The Partnership will drive investment and facilitate progress on four key regional priorities: renewables and cleaner energy; markets and interconnectivity; the emerging role of natural gas; and sustainable development,” the White House stated. “We will engage with the private sector as well as partner countries in the region to determine specific projects within these four priority areas. We will work closely with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to enhance their work in the region on these issues. With an estimated $9 trillion needed in investment in electricity alone through 2035 to meet growing demand in the region, there is enormous potential for U.S. industry to play an important role in the region’s energy future.”
Where is such a policy for the United States? Where is our Smart Grid, our Renewables, our Clean Energy?
In his first press conference after his reelection (on Nov. 14), Obama was asked specifically about climate change in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and his remarks were less than determined:
“….we can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change,” the President said. “What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.
“And I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.
“Now, in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That will have an impact. That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. We doubled the production of clean energy, which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation. And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere. But we haven’t done as much as we need to.
“So what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary — a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.
“I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue; I also think there are regional differences. There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.
“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.”
But the Republicans and other politicians in the pockets of Big Oil, and climate change deniers are already at work.
Just this week, the Washington Post reported a story, “Climate skeptic group works to reverse renewable energy mandates,” that should get people up in arms:
“The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change science, , has joined with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council to write model legislation aimed at reversing state renewable energy mandates across the country.
“The Electricity Freedom Act, adopted by the council’s board of directors in October, would repeal state standards requiring utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable power, calling it ‘essentially a tax on consumers of electricity.’ Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have binding renewable standards; in the absence of federal climate legislation, these initiatives have become the subject of intense political battles.”
This mindless irresponsibility of government officials to not only deny science but the reality staring you in the face was also on view last summer when North Carolina’ passed a law prohibiting scientific evidence or analysis in forecasting sea level rise.
“These rates shall only be determined using historical data and these data shall be limited to the time period following 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.”
And when North Carolina is hit with another hurricane and its high-priced coastal vacation homes are swept into the sea, we taxpayers will no doubt be called upon to compensate the homeowners so they can rebuild exactly where they were.
Meanwhile, Big Oil, the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove Super Pacs which spent $270 million just in the last weeks of the Presidential election to elect the fossil fuel president, Mitt Romney, are spending millions to prevent the Environmental Protection Administration from regulating carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works who famously called climate change “a hoax,” wrote a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson telling her to back-off imposing regulations on carbon as part of the Clean Air Act. “.. the Proposed Rule embraces a reckless energy and economic agenda that is threatening a weak economy,” he wrote.
Undoubtedly, Republicans and climate-change deniers will make the charge that the fragile economic recovery cannot afford the cost of changing over from fossil-fuel dependency to a society and an economy based on clean, renewable energy.
But for those who charge that the US economy cannot afford to address climate change I have one word: Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy, considered one of the worst storms to ever hit the United States, is estimated to have caused $59 billion in damage – if you can even calculate the cost of more than 100 lives lost.
But Sandy is only the latest of a long list of environmental disasters, including massive wildfires and the worst drought to hit the Midwest since the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.
Watch Ken Burns’ “Dust Bowl” documentary on PBS and you see unfolding before you a man-made ecological disaster caused by avarice and enabled by quintessential laissez-faire government.
And just like in the 1930s,when the US government (we taxpayers) had to bail out the farmers with agricultural subsidies and buy-back programs, we will likely have to pay for this drought in terms of farm aid and disaster relief but also in higher prices each of us will have to pay for bread, cereal, meat, dairy and well, just about all our food.
And there is more. Half of our budget goes to military spending – we spend more than the next 14 countries combined – and for the past 50 years, most of that military spending has gone not to stop the spread of Communism but to preserve and protect our access to foreign oil. That’s why we prop up certain dictators and overthrow others.
A report that ironically was supposed to be released on October 29, the day that Hurricane Sandy hit, finds that climate change is accelerating and it will place unparalleled strains on American military and intelligence agencies in coming years by causing ever more disruptive events around the globe.
The study by National Research Council, which was commissioned by the CIA, finds that clusters of apparently unrelated events exacerbated by a warming climate will create more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains and public health systems.
“Hurricane Sandy provided a foretaste of what can be expected more often in the near future, the report’s lead author, John D. Steinbruner, said in an interview” reported in the New York Times.
“’This is the sort of thing we were talking about’,” said Mr. Steinbruner, a longtime authority on national security. ‘You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm. But we’re saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We’re also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that’.”
The Washington Post recently reported that climate change scientists now believe that worst case scenario in terms of warming may be the most likely scenario – in other words, the decade that we should have spent weaning off of fossil fuels, was squandered.
They are talking about the possibility that at the turn of century, the earth might be 8 degrees warmer than it is today, which James Hanson of NASA, the nation’s foremost expert on climate change (who was muzzled during the Bush regime) has said is incompatible with our species.
That means that the ecosystem that we depend upon for food, water, to control parasites and viruses, would be up-ended, not to mention the fact that some 200 million people live along coastlines that would be submerged. This means a competition for land, food, water and other resources, such as in the course of human history have been resolved by wars and conflict.
It isn’t just our immediate “world” that is in jeopardy (check out the map in the Nov. 24 New York Times Review which shows the Great Neck Peninsula submerged with just a five-foot rise in sea level, along with much of New York City).
The rest of the world – the planet – pays the price for our selfishness, stupidity and stubbornness.
I am told this is the age of irony. What is ironic is that the US – thanks largely to the Obama policies – is less dependent on foreign oil than any time in decades. More ironic is that the US is becoming a leading exporter – in fact, oil is our largest export. There are predictions that the US will become the world’s largest exporter, surpassing even Saudi Arabia.
That means that the Big Oil interests – the most profitable industry in the history of mankind, which has proven to have the means to control political power and policy – has a stake in keeping the world dependent upon oil, along with the US economy.
But now that our government officials and public workers and utility contractors have restored the functioning of our own community, the focus again shifts not to why and how to prevent or mitigate such disasters – the transformational change that is required – but rather, on how to rebuild “smarter” to withstand the worst of flooding, This week’s New York Times’ Science section described an ingenious balloon “plug” that would keep the subway tunnels from flooding – a cheaper alternative to constructing flood gates.
As Governor Cuomo said, “Given the frequency, for us to say this is once in a generation is [naïve]. We need to modify the infrastructure, our built environment. ..We have to recognize that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, a reality that we are vulnerable, and if we are going to do our job as elected officials, we have to redesign so we are not vulnerable.”
It is technology being brought to the rescue in response to the catastrophe rather than anything being done to prevent or mitigate the catastrophe. Much like our health care system which is oriented to curing, rather than preventing, with the result that we spend more for worse outcomes and suffer needlessly.
Indeed, this notion that we can manufacture our way out of natural disasters is implicit in Big Oil’s argument.
Last June, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said that climate change is no biggie – that humans can simply adapt.
“We have spent our entire existence adapting,” said Tillerson. “We’ll adapt. It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”
They would rather than human civilization – to the extent is can survive at all – accommodate fossil fuels rather than do the more rational thing which is to shift from fossil fuels, just as we shifted away from whale oil.
Indeed, the technological innovation that is called for is already here: it’s called “renewable energy” – wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass.
We have made extraordinarily fast transitions even in the past two decades – our society has been transformed by computers, by cell phones. I remember when the various mobile communications companies were coming to each of the villages to get licenses and permits to put cell towers on buildings. At first there was resistance. Now we live in the Digital Age.
Congress may be obsessed with the fiscal cliff but the outcome of falling off of the fiscal cliff (really more of a curb or a slope) is nothing compared to what our habitat faces because of climate change.
Republicans have used the term “moral imperative” to describe the necessity of paying off the national debt.
But all the key issues – the need for jobs, for deficit reduction, for economic recovery which would be generated by consumers unshackled by ever-rising costs of fossil fuels, health costs, food costs, and all the costs associated with climate change disasters and pollution – are bound up with climate change.
Addressing climate change is the real moral imperative. It is nothing less than saving our world, our civilization, and the American way of life.
Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention thought to throw a dig at Obama saying, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. [Laughter]. And to heal the planet.”
I see it as a prod for Obama to act.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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