Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?
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As bad as the presidential candidates have been, the mainstream media continues to treat climate change as a third-tier issue that matters only to a niche audience of environmentalists. Moderating the second Romney-Obama debate, CNN’s Candy Crowley did an admirable job of keeping the discussion moving and correcting candidates’ misstatements. But she reflected the media’s beltway mentality when she later explained why she had not brought up the climate issue. She had thought about it, she said—apparently she had been deluged with requests to do so from what she called “you climate people”—but in the end decided that the economy was really the issue people wanted to hear about.
Tell that to the insurance industry, which now faces at least $20 billion in damage claims following Hurricane Sandy. Tell it to America’s taxpayers, who are on the hook for an estimated $10–12 billion in additional uninsured damages—a figure that happens to equal the amount taxpayers already provide in subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries that are most responsible not only for causing global warming but also for blocking government action against it. “How about instead of using our money to fuel climate change, we start using it to help people and stop future disasters?” asks Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International.
Above all, tell it to Valerie Baulmer, the heartbroken mother of 11-year-old Jack, who was killed with his best friend, 13-year-old Michael Robson, when the ferocious winds of Hurricane Sandy blew down a tree that smashed the Baulmer’s house in New Salem, New York. “I lost my son,” Ms. Baulmer wailed as she fell into the arms of the boy’s uncle. “I lost my son.”
If there were any poetic justice, this superstorm “would be named Hurricane Chevron or Hurricane Exxon, not Hurricane Sandy,” wrote Bill McKibben, the author and founder of the activist group 350.org. By funding the disinformation campaign that has frightened elected officials out of taking action and left the United States as the only country in the industrialized world where the scientific consensus on man-made climate change is seen as somehow controversial, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and the rest of the fossil fuel industry have made catastrophes like today’s both more likely and more deadly.
But ours need not be a Greek tragedy. Especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there is no reason to continue disregarding scientists’ warnings about where our current path leads. Nor is there reason to doubt that a better path is possible. The solutions we need—a dramatic increase in energy efficiency; a rapid shift to solar, wind and other clean energy sources; a reversal of our current government subsidy patterns to champion climate-friendly rather than climate-destructive policies; and much else—are already available. Moreover, they promise to advance economic prosperity and summon the best of the American people and spirit.
“We are free to make choices,” says Betsy Taylor, an environmental activist who leads Breakthrough Solutions.
“We can choose to garner all of our ingenuity, our workforce, our schools, churches, farmers, youth and military to transform our buildings, transit systems, food systems, and power sources to become the most efficient, clean energy economy on the planet. Or we can keep drilling and live with the nightmare of extreme droughts, floods and storms. And if fossil fuel companies stand in our way, they underestimate the fury of mothers and fathers who will lay down their lives to stop the drilling and protect their children.”
The challenge of climate change is no longer a technical one, if it ever was. The challenge has always been primarily political, political and ultimately economic, as exemplified by the de facto veto power the richest industry in human history, Big Oil, has long exercised over US federal policy. We as a civilization have known for more than 20 years how to stop global warming: we have to stop burning so much fossil fuel. But Big Oil won’t hear of it. They’d rather relocate the Farm Belt, as Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson recently suggested, than leave the last drop of petroleum unburned.