Warming Deniers Akin to the Tobacco Lobby
Taking action on the proven science of climate change requires overcoming obfuscation from the fossil fuel polluters lobby in order to implement a policy of increased efficiency and conservation, coupled with a clean, renewable energy plan. A CO2 fee and dividend system could help level the relative cost of renewables, creating the political will to kick the fossil fuel habit.
By Morey Wolfson, Published in the Pasadena Star News
The 2012 weather statistics and climate change news rocked a growing number of us in Southern California out of complacency. As an active participant in state, regional, and national energy and environment policy processes for over forty years, this last year feels like a seismic shift in the conversation on climate change.
Recognizing the risk of over-simplifying what we all know is a complex topic, I suggest that society faces these two broad problems: climate change and climate deniers (who would prefer to be called skeptics). And I suggest that society has two broad solutions available.
The first problem: Climate Change.
The lack of space here does not allow for a summary, let alone a recitation, of the myriad pertinent facts such as record-breaking temperatures and the accelerating Arctic ice melt. Here is the point – the evidence of ever-worsening climate change is incontrovertible. The climate crisis is recognized by nearly all climate scientists and over 50 prestigious scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences. In a rational intellectual environment, the climate evidence would have been recognized long ago — putting to rest any remaining debate whether human-caused climate change is taking place. In a less corrupted political system, elected officials would have enacted policies designed to confront the threat head-on.
The second problem: Climate Deniers.
Responsible citizens must single out the deniers and expose their motives: protecting their substantial profits and economic clout. It is common knowledge that the fraternity includes deep pockets in the fossil fuel industry, conservative media outlets, blow-hard talk show hosts, and for-hire “conservative think tanks.” For decades, these deniers have employed the same deceit and obfuscation methods used by those in the tobacco industry, who tried to deny a connection between smoking and cancer.
Our broken system of campaign finance and lobbying has allowed major polluters, billionaires, and ideologues to buy off the Republican Party and essentially scare off a large fraction of the Democratic Party.
Adult supervision of this vital issue requires an end to the long-standing practice of kowtowing to climate deniers. For example: Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe constantly repeats, to the delight of the fossil fuel industry, that “climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” In response to Inhofe, at a hearing following Hurricane Sandy, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said “We’ve tolerated the deniers for far too long in this body.” Whitehouse criticized “a rear-guard action in this building led by polluters” who are against taking action on climate change. “They are just plain dead wrong. I think some of the courtesies that we have given to one another collegially really have to yield to the fact that some of the things that are being said in the Senate are just plain wrong.”
Solutions are within reach.
There is no doubt that we now have the technical know-how to integrate much higher levels of clean energy technology into our electric and transportation systems. Recent advances in clean and renewable technologies have been remarkable. Many of the gains resulted from government research and development investments, coupled with legislative policies, such as efficiency and renewable portfolio standards.
Through greater reliance on conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy, Pasadena Water and Power, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and other California utilities are on a path to meet state policy mandates to lower carbon emissions in their electric supply. Although this present path is laudable, the mid-2020s timeline for weaning the California grid off of coal power imported from Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona are inadequate and timid. A variety of studies by top universities (including Stanford) have detailed how the US electric grid can be economically and completely weaned off of fossil fuels by 2030.
We need political will.
We must urge our political leaders to act in the broader public interest and enact effective policies to address the crisis. A grassroots group – 350.org - offers several solid pathways. Responsible and informed citizens should advocate for a fee-and-dividend system as designed by the Citizens Climate Lobby. Congress needs to pass legislation to place a fee on the amount of carbon dioxide in fossil fuels, assessed at the source of the fuel: at the mine, well, or port of entry. The fee starts out low and increases annually in a predictable manner until clean and renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuel. The fee is collected by the federal government and 100 percent is refunded to all citizens. Because the fee (and the price of fossil fuel) goes up predictably over time, it sends a clear price signal to begin using fossil fuels more efficiently or replace them with clean energy.
Americans have rolled up their sleeves before. It is time to do it again.
Morey Wolfson works with the Pasadena chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby