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Climate Change Denial Tightens Its Grip on Washington, DC

by Alasdair Coyne

The Center for American Progress Action Fund recently revealed that oil, coal and utility companies have together spent $500 million since early 2009 to lobby against climate change legislation - and to defeat the candidates who supported it.

The result? Only one Republican Senate candidate out of three dozen in the November elections believes that mankind is responsible for global warming. And at least fifty freshmen Republican Congressmen about to take their seats in Washington, DC in January are strong climate change skeptics.

In terms of public opinion, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that the American public's belief in the solid evidence for global climate change has shrunk over the past four years from 79 percent to 59 percent. Over the same period, the 50 percent of us who believed mankind responsible for climate change has shrunk to 34 percent.

The fossil fuel industry has achieved this partly by their lobbying, but also by the funding of institutes which pump out anti-climate-change studies, casting doubt on the real science of global warming, and by producing economic analyses that are weighted to demonstrate that the shift to green energy sources will be devastating to job growth and the economic recovery.

Of course, there's also the army of right-wing radio talk-show hosts who regularly emphasize the same points of view, which are accepted at face value by far too many of the American public. The problem is, climate change is continuing to worsen, even as our public awareness of it is diminishing.

A secretive meeting of billionaire conservatives took place in Aspen in June, among other goals to further the agenda of fighting climate change "alarmism," hosted by Charles and David Koch (who also funded the attempted rollback of California's climate change laws in the recent elections.)

A new book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, illustrates the strategies that have worked for corporate America to oppose and delay regulations on tobacco, acid rain, ozone-depleting chemicals, and now global warming.

The tactics - discredit the science, spread doubt and confusion in the public mind, and present "experts" whose claims are accepted by the media and politicians as evidence of genuine disagreement among the scientific community. Robin McKie, who reviewed this book for the U.K.'s Observer, described it as his "runaway contender for best science book of the year."

What Will the Republican House of Representatives Do to Unravel American Progress on Climate Change?

As well as sounding the death knell for any meaningful legislation in DC to combat climate change in the next two-year session of Congress, the new House leadership has already vowed to challenge the EPA's authority over climate-changing emissions in the US.

A 2007 Supreme Court Ruling allowed the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the EPA has issued two rulings; one requiring new cars to get between 45 and 62 mpg by 2025, and another ruling

requiring greater efficiency for trucks, buses and other heavy vehicles, which together use 20 percent of all vehicle fuels in the US.

Beginning in 2011, the EPA is poised to issue similar rulings for emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledges that these new rulings would be "endangered by many, if not all, of the efforts we’ve seen to take away the [EPA's] agency's greenhouse gas authority."

What Are We Facing?

Martin Rees, Britain's astronomer-royal and president of the Royal Society, has written a new book, Our Final Century, in which he speculates that human civilization may be doomed by the year 2100 - by population growth, resource depletion and global climate change. The Earth has existed for 45 thousand centuries, he says, but "this is the first when one species, ours, can determine - for good or ill - the future of the entire biosphere."

How About Some Good News?

While Republican efforts in Congress will likely stymie sensible green energy legislation over the next two year - Congress being the obvious enactor of nationwide energy efficiency laws - that does not mean that no other progress will be forthcoming to combat America's massive 25 percent contribution to global climate change.

The defeat of California's Proposition 23 on the November ballot represented a 62 to 38 percent victory for a green energy future. Prop 23 was largely funded by two Texas oil companies and by the billionaire Koch brothers, and it proposed rolling back California's ground-breaking green energy legislation, AB 32 (

Funded by Silicon Valley green energy investors and environmental groups, the NO on 23 campaign was co-chaired by George Schulz, the Republican and former Secretary of State. Schulz said that the resounding defeat of Prop 23 came from every demographic and political group around the state.

American Scientists to Speak Out

Dismayed by the success of climate change deniers in shaping public opinion in the US, the American Geophysical Union is assembling a group of 700 scientists who've agreed to speak out on mankind's role in accelerating global warming.

John Abraham, of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, is also creating a "climate rapid response team", including scientists who are prepared to appear on conservative radio and TV talk shows, and to go head to head with climate change skeptics.

International Efforts

Last year's dismal failure of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen has resulted in renewed efforts to seek an international climate change agreement, before the upcoming meeting on the topic in Cancun this December. While Europe and most of the rest of the world are now much closer to agreement than at Copenhagen, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, are still not on board.

Yet another approach to an international climate change accord is being put forward - an expansion of the Montreal Protocol on the reduction of ozone-depleting chemicals, which was ratified over twenty years ago. The Montreal Protocol has successfully phased out nearly 97 percent of ozone-depleting chemicals worldwide. Since most of those gases were also potent contributors to global warming, this success has been equivalent to eradicating five years total of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The expansion of the Montreal Protocol - already ratified by the US Senate in 1988 might take a few years before becoming a reality. Daniel Reifsnyder, the US chief negotiator for the Montreal Protocol, said this accord "also has the tremendous ability to solve the climate problem if people are willing to use it that way."

Other Efforts Continue to Address Global Warming

-- The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the biggest municipal utility in the nation, last year produced 15 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources. This year, the total may reach 20 percent, all without exorbitant rate increases.

-- In early October, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the first large-scale solar electric plants on federal land - in the

California desert. The bigger installation, Tessera Solar's ten square mile project, will reflect the rays of the sun onto a heat-operated generator. It could provide power to 500,000 homes. Five more similar projects may be approved by the end of this year - to provide enough power for two million homes. Bearing in mind an average of 3 people per home, that's enough power for 6 million Californians - or about one sixth of the state's current population.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is fast-tracking solar energy development in six western states, and plans to designate 24 "solar energy areas" as highly suitable for solar energy generation by the end of 2011. These sites will be selected, among other factors, to avoid wilderness areas and critical habitat for endangered species.

-- Greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy countries fell by 7 percent in 2009s recession, but the slack was all taken up by increased emissions from India and China. All in all, global greenhouse gas emissions didn't grow in 2009, the first such plateau since 1992.

This effect of the recession draws stark attention to the combination of consumerism and everlasting economic growth that are the twin engines of global climate change. Make no mistake about it - the way we currently live and power our lives in the resource-hungry USA is not the only way for Americans to lead satisfying and rewarding lives. The coming era will of necessity be one of diminished resource consumption, of thriftiness, recycling, eating less meat, flying around less - and making do with far less stuff in our lives.

-- The Republicans in Congress may not give a hoot - yet - about global warming, but the US Navy isn't waiting around. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is aiming for an energy independent Navy. For starters, by 2016 he wants to have a full carrier strike group composed of nuclear and hybrid electric vessels along with biofueled jets. By 2020, he wants half the Navy's power to come from alternative sources instead of fossil fuels.

-- Here's another good book - Jonathan Bloom's American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What We Can Do About It). Think of it as a stocking stuffer this Xmas.

In total, around 40 percent of the food America produces fails to make it into anybody's mouth. On a daily basis, we fill the Rose Bowl with wasted foods, discarding 50 percent more edibles per person than we did in 1974.

What's more, this wasted food takes 70 times the Deepwater Horizon's spilled oil volume annually, to grow, harvest, ship, process package and distribute. That's before it lands on your plate. After the discards are thrown out, they need to be transported to the landfill, where they release methane as they decompose, which is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The average family of four tosses out $1,350 of food each year. This could provide 1,400 meals at a local soup kitchen.

-- Google is investing $1.8 billion to construct transmission lines to connect offshore wind farms. They just purchased a 37.5 percent stake in the Atlantic Ocean wind energy project.

-- Last, but not least, helium-filled airships may soon be transporting non-perishable goods around the planet. They don't need airports, just docking and loading lifts to collect and drop off goods. Their fuel costs would be much less than an airplane's - and the US Defense Department is putting big money into research and development. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are busy with designs. Just think what we could do when our nation embraces green energy at the national level. America still has the world's finest entrepreneurs and innovators. National leadership is vital in terms of standards, research, efficiency goals, and the shifting of government subsidies from the fossil fuel industry to alternative energy. Walking in lockstep with the agenda of the fossil fuel industries, Republican legislators in Washington DC are as blind to the opportunities for American leadership of the green energy revolution as they are ignorant of the threats posed by global warming to life on Earth as we know it.

When will they wake up to this?

- Alasdair Coyne,

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