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How Climate Change Is Worsened by Attacks on the Public Sector, Science and Regulation

What's missing from today's discussions is not just the words "climate change," but the words "public sector."

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AMY GOODMAN: Is the difference also in the United States the level of power exerted by the oil companies, the wealthiest in the world—I mean, in terms of advertisements and the corporate media, etc.? I wanted to bring up a tweet of Bill McKibben. This is on the issue of the topic of fossil fuel subsidies at the Rio+20 summit. Bill McKibben tweeted, "Proposal: Each time we set a new temp record, deduct 1% from Exxon’s subsidy payments. 2000 new records last month, let’s see, that’s..." Christian Parenti?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, I mean, we should obviously reduce all those subsidies, and we should allow the  EPA to do what it is mandated to do, which is impose a  de facto carbon tax. With the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by Clinton in the mid-'90s and then not ratified by the Senate, states and green organizations sued, saying the  EPA should be regulating greenhouse gases. They won that suit. It was just reaffirmed again recently. What that means is that the  EPA is responsible for issuing rules that would raise the cost of burning fossil fuels. If that happens, there will be a massive shift of investment away from these now dirty and subsidized industries towards clean industries. These laws exist. This needs to happen. The government, as being one-third or more of the economy, could lead the way by saying, "OK, all of our new vehicles are going to be electric. We're going to set out a schedule for buying clean power for all of our buildings." The federal government is the largest single consumer of power in the economy.

So, you know, also, the private sector—you know, profits have really recovered in this economy. The private sector is sitting on more uninvested cash, corporate America is. And this is—I’m not talking about profits paid out or bonuses, I’m talking about money they’re sitting on in the form of short-term Treasury bonds. They’re waiting for cues. "Where do we invest?" If the government allowed the  EPA to do what it must do—raise the price of burning fossil fuels—that would help direct private money into renewable energy. It would help put people back to work. So, you know, there’s—in the face of this crisis, we have to really think seriously and maturely and creatively about the role of government.

Just one other fact about this disaster stuff: you know, the only place you can get flood insurance is basically the federal government. It writes 95 percent of flood insurance. This is never discussed. This is—what underwrites the recovery of so many flood-hit communities is the public sector.

AMY GOODMAN: What about climate change globally? Give us—paint us the picture and what it means. You started to talk about that.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, it’s kicking in all over the world. I was just in Vietnam. They take it very seriously there. There, there’s no—I mean, denial of climate change doesn’t even occur. There, the debate is, do we protect the Mekong Delta, which is the heart of the Vietnamese economy—Vietnam was, for the last 10 years, the world’s top rice exporter. That all comes from the Mekong Delta. The debate there is, do we put dikes on the edge of the Mekong Delta, or do we retreat one kilometer in to help the mangroves retreat? So they’re having a very sophisticated discussion.

And what it means is that, you know, people do not have institutions like  FEMA to fall back on. And so, poor farmers get hit, they lose their land, they migrate to the cities. In places like, you know, other places with violence going on, people fall into sort of, you know, drug economies in cities or rural raiding, or they are attracted to millenarian religious and ethnic fanaticism, and these become the solutions, and they pick up the gun. And that’s what  Topic of Chaos is all about, looking at how climate change plays out through political institutions and then shows up as violence. And this often happens in very attenuated ways.

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