Time For U.S. To Show Leadership.

Actually, it’s long past time. Had the United States shown leadership when scientists first explained the consequences of climate change, when Al Gore released his Inconvenient Truth, we might have already recreated our economy, inspired other nations and generated millions of jobs. Instead, conservatives chose to politicize the issue to protect Bush/Cheney’s interests in Big Oil.

As a result, we’ve seen more than a decade of increased oil exploration; more than a decade of drilling, fracking, and tar sands mining; more than a decade of mountaintop removal to more cheaply mine coal; more than a decade of ice melt releasing methane; more than a decade of increasing corporate farming with its reliance on chemicals and animal confinement generating even more methane; and more than a decade of obstructing alternative fuel industries.

We’ve heard conservatives ridicule solar energy while China and Europe have captured the manufacture of photovoltaic cells. We’ve heard conservatives ridicule Cap and Trade legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions. Worse, we’ve heard conservatives throw tantrums over the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline which environmental scientists fear will amount to “game over” with regard to climate change.

Meanwhile, President Obama has been understandably quiet with regard to the issue. With Cap and Trade blocked in Congress, his administration has quietly gone about raising fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks. The administration had created incentives and offered loans to help jumpstart alternative energy sources. And the EPA has created new standards for electric generation, causing many power plants to switch from coal to natural gas. All of these measures have reduced US carbon emissions 10 percent since 2005.

That’s good, but not nearly good enough!

With climate change accelerating at an astounding pace, it’s time for the US to invest heavily in measures that can halt and reverse global warming. With the world’s largest economy, we’re in a unique position to show leadership. Not only will this head off an increasing number of calamities, including wars, floods, starvation and other human tragedies. It will transform our economy, create jobs and reverse our decline in exports.

Imagine if, instead of increasing investments in our war machine designed to protect sources of cheap oil, we could use that money to help emerging countries gain access to clean water and cheap electricity. And what if we could do so by helping them leapfrog existing, dirty technology by selling them new carbon-free, sustainable energy? We would be helping them build their economies as we build our own. In addition, we would be building friendships that would last generations.

Imagine if by developing new technologies that would create inexpensive forms of carbon-free energy, we could, once again, export products to China that are made in the US. It’s possible. But it will take unified leadership from both President Obama and Congress.

Well, I can dream.  Can’t I?

Unreasonable Trade-Offs.

After seeing a headline by David Suzuki “Trading Water for Fuel is Fracking Crazy,” I started thinking about all of the trade-offs we’re being asked to make.  Yes, as Suzuki points out, we are being asked to trade the purity of fresh water in our aquifers that took hundreds and thousands of years to accumulate for the profits of gas and oil companies through the use of toxic chemicals for fracking.

And that’s only one of the trade-offs we’re being asked to make in order to benefit big business.

We’re being asked to trade the beauty of the Appalachians and the area’s pristine waters for the profits of the coal industry through the use of mountaintop removal mining. We’re asked to trade the natural taste and nutrition of fresh fruits and vegetables for the profits of Monsanto, Walmart and large agribusiness companies by allowing the increased use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds. We’re asked to trade the effectiveness of life-saving antibiotics by allowing large cattle feeders, hog growers and poultry growers to increase profits by adding antibiotics to animal feeds.

In order to increase profits for manufacturers, we’re asked to purchase products made overseas that could be made by workers in the US. So that large corporations can pay employees less than a liveable wage, we are asked to help their employees with food stamps, child care and other safety net programs. In order to increase the profits of corporations, we are asked to lower their income taxes and increase ours.  In order to help billionaires avoid paying income taxes, we are asked to give them a large array of tax breaks, including greatly reduced capital gains taxes.

And, in what is probably the most questionable trade-off of all, we are asked to ignore the very real long-term consequences of climate change for the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry.

All of these trade-offs and their consequences are avoidable. We simply need the will to change the way we allow corporations to operate. We should demand that they pay for all of the costs of their actions. And that the cost of government subsidies, including the costs to our environment and our health, be included in corporate expenses.

In other words, if corporations truly are people as the US Supreme Court has ruled, we should hold them accountable for their actions.

The Real Cost Of Fossil Fuels.

The chemical spill in West Virginia that polluted the drinking water of more than 300,000 people should remind everyone of the real cost of fossil fuels. As you know, conservatives are fond of saying that subsidies for research and the expansion of alternative energy are unfair; that they disguise the true cost of solar, wind and other forms of clean, renewable energy. Of course, they never mention the massive direct subsidies our government gives to the coal, oil and gas industries (estimated at $14 billion to $51 billion per year) or the indirect subsidies (the cost of damage to our environment; the cost of health problems that result from breathing polluted air and drinking polluted water; the cost of clean ups of spills; the cost of regulation).

If all of the indirect costs were added, the total subsidies for the fossil fuel industries are almost incalcuable and they’re certain to grow as we deal with the damages caused by climate change.

By comparison, the indirect costs of renewable energy are almost negligible. Wind generators require materials for manufacture and fossil fuels to transport them to their eventual sites. They also reportedly cause the deaths of some birds. But those deaths are dwarfed by the number of birds killed and endangered by oil spills and from drinking chemical pollutants. Solar panels also require manufacture and transportation. But that’s it.

Once in operation, neither add CO2 to the atmosphere. Neither can cause toxic spills. Wind and solar generation is decentralized so there’s less chance of widespread power outages. Both eliminate the need for daily trainloads of fuels. They require no pipelines. There is no need to remove entire mountaintops. No need to pump toxic chemicals into the earth in order to extract wind or sun. And there is no need for waste disposal. When the wind generators and solar panels become obsolete, most of their materials can be recycled.

Best of all, they create jobs in the US, and they would create a lot more if Congress would provide manufacturers with the incentives and protections needed to fend off state-sponsored manufacturers in China. They also reduce the need for fossil fuels, which should make our reserves of oil and gas last well into the future.

So why do Congressional Republicans continue to rubber stamp subsidies for oil, gas and coal while denying much smaller subsidies for alternative energy? The answer, as always, is money.

The majority of fossil fuels are extracted from red states, such as Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming. Most refineries are also located in red states – Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Oil, gas and coal companies have very deep pockets from decades of favored political status and profiteering. They have one of the largest lobbying groups in Washington. The companies and their billionaire owners are willing to spend whatever it takes to retain their monopolies. Moreover, the Citizens United ruling by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court made it possible for corporations to offer large donations to political campaigns. And politicians are more than willing to accept them.