Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We Must Act Now to Begin Reducing Carbon Dioxide Pollution

In April of 2007, the United States Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide pollution as well as other greenhouse gasses could be regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency if the EPA found that the levels of  those gases endanger public health or welfare.  By December of 2007, EPA officials had concluded that emissions did endanger public health and welfare, but said finding was withheld by political appointees of President George W. Bush and only released to the public after a congressional investigation.  In 2007, EPA had concluded that the Clean Air Act gave it power to limit carbon dioxide pollution from both mobile and stationary sources and that the science on climate change disruption showed that this pollution endangered public welfare.  But staff of Vice President Dick Cheney and fossil fuel lobbyists argued to cover up the finding in order to avoid tarnishing President Bush's legacy.

In April of 2009, the EPA published its findings that carbon dioxide pollution endangered both public health and welfare.  For the years which followed, lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry continued to argue for delays in reducing carbon dioxide pollution while voluntary measures were supposed to magically solve the problems of climate disruption, In June of 2014, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on EPA's proposed response to regulate carbon dioxide pollution and other greenhouse gasses, giving the EPA's proposal a green light on control over major sources of air pollution like power plants.  Shortly after this victory, the EPA announced its proposal specifying reductions in greenhouse gas pollution each state should be required to meet on a statewide basis.

Meanwhile, scientists were confirming data which show that carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa were above 400 ppm over a three month period-the highest in recorded history.   The Pentagon was preparing a report identifying disruptions caused by climate change as a threat to national security.  Now that the law is clear, the problem has been identified and a cost-effective solution has been put forward, rational decision makers should be able to make an effective policy response to climate disruption and carbon dioxide pollution.   But our legislative branches are not so easily persuaded by law, cause, effect and cure.  It has become an article of faith among many GOP leaders to resist any attempt to control carbon dioxide pollution by law.  We do not need more science or law, just bipartisan leadership.  We need conservative problem solvers to offer a real cure that suits their needs.

I had the good fortune to meet one in 2012.  His name is Bob Inglis.  Student organizers from Duke invited him to give the keynote at a symposium: “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future.”   Inglis is a native of Bluffton, South Carolina and practiced commercial real estate law prior to his election to the United States House of Representatives.  He served from 1993 through 1999 and  from 2005 through 2010.  During his last three terms, he garnered more than 60% of the vote in the general election each time.  But in 2010, the Tea Party attacked Inglis and finished his political career with a primary challenge from the right.

Inglis told the folks at the Duke conference that there were conservative responses to climate disruption.  While these responses are not widespread, they are more common among younger conservatives.  This is consistent with the observed trend that correlates climate disruption denial with age-older voters of all political stripes have less faith in climate science and less interest in doing anything to combat it.

The arch-example of this trend may well be the octogenarian Republican Senator on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe.  His book on climate policy has not exactly been flying off the shelves at Amazon.  Just reading through the Amazon reviews tells you much about the political polarization that has destroyed rational dialogue about climate disruption science.  Nearly all the reviews were either 5-Star, ALL CAPS love notes or one star ad-hominem attacks.  I will not read it.  I already was sent a free copy of a very similar volume, which misapprehends basic concepts of statistics.

Senator Inhofe’s beliefs on carbon dioxide pollution are mixed up with his theology.  Senator Inhofe has explained that man’s role in climate is insignificant since God is in charge of the climate, as suggested by citing Genesis 8:22.  Senator Inhofe cited Paul's Letter to the Romans as support for casting stones at those who believe climate change is man-made by claiming they worship the creation rather than the creator.

Charles Krauthammer goes one step better by describing “an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class -- social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies -- arrogated to themselves the right to rule.”  After the fall of communism and the decline of socialism, Krauthammer posits that the “knowledge class” is using environmentalism to impose a new religion of Gaia, with its priests demanding carbon chastity. “Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but -- even better -- in the name of Earth itself.”  So the Red Menace is now the Green Menace.  Greenbaiting is the new redbaiting.  Both Krauthammer and Senator Inhofe see in the climate policy debate, the red menace seeking to have us sign away our freedoms.

I agree that there is a knowledge class which rules Washington, DC.  The evidence does not support the notion that this powerful; “knowledge class” is made up of climate scientists and fellow traveler refugees from the Politburo.  Rather, you may find them on K Street in very nice offices working for the fossil fuel lobby and the think tanks they have funded, vetted and cited.

In contrast, climate scientists have been hounded out of positions of power.  President George W. Bush renounced his promise to regulate carbon dioxide having changed his plans following lobbying from fossil fuel lobby.  There is a bit of pushback against the (formerly) K Street-based ALEC, which has lobbied heavily in the climate policy debate.  In some cases, the companies and the lobbyists that they represent disagree about whether they were lobbying on climate change issues at all.

But this brings us right back to Bob Inglis and the small cadre of folks who believe in battling climate disruption without growing government.  They have really great ideas, but they are not getting a fair hearing in the national policy debate.  Here is the premise from which Inglis operates as communicated to Duke in 2012: “It is time for conservatives to take the lead on environmental issues because, in the face of our most pressing environmental problems, conservatism offers the solution—free enterprise. For  years, conservatives have been afraid to lead on the issues of climate change and energy because we thought we did not have a viable solution to offer the country. … I posit that the climate crisis is not an unsolvable riddle. Instead, if we apply conservative principles, climate change can be an opportunity for the economy and the environment.”  Inglis goes on to lay out three conservative policy principles supporting this approach: accountability, certainty and tax reform.

Inglis argues that coal is not being held accountable for the more than 13,000 premature deaths caused by soot each year in the United States.  As to certainty, he points out that energy sector investment is primarily hampered by uncertainty over global carbon policy and the price signals have jumped around a lot.  Lastly, he points out that conservatives want to tax things that are bad, like CO2, as opposed to things which are good, like income-so he proposes an income-neutral carbon tax as one type of solution.  This would be imposed on imports and removed on exports from the United States.  Whether this is the best solution or not, it is more creative than any other approach I have seen coming from conservatives-it seeks to turn the buying power of American consumers into the driver of innovation and investment both here and abroad.

We currently export carbon dioxide to China and we import the products and most of the profits made with that export.  It is far better policy for job creation in the United States if we manufactured those products in the United States instead-a fact that our wage-stagnant recovery demonstrates.  Our four most important elements for civilization depend upon getting this policy done right: clean water, clean air, abundant food and abundant energy.

For years, Republican lawmakers have insisted that the United States should not make reductions unless China does so as well.  Now that China has committed to reducing its emissions, it is time to act to correct, it is time for those Republican lawmakers to act.  Our United States Armed Forces have declared climate disruption to be a real threat to global security.  Greenbaiting cranky old men to yell at their televisions about President Obama's EPA.  Kicking the can down the road is miscreant behavior, given the threat posed by climate disruption.

We owe it to the next generations to come to begin reducing carbon dioxide pollution right now.

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