Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 24, 2015

How our Congress “addresses” climate change

The short answer to this is that our Congress does not, in fact, address climate change. What it does do is provide various incentives to select businesses in a manner that gives the impression that they are addressing climate change.  Since these business interests have found support in both the Republican and Democratic parties, Congress can also make it look like they are reaching “across the aisle” and coming to so-called ”compromises” in which both “sides” of the climate debate appear to be winning something. The tragedy of this charade is that the public and the environment usually lose by the actions taken on both sides – that is, by putting poor ideas in motion that only delay meaningful action against climate change.

The omnibus federal spending bill just passed by Congress provides the latest example of this and I will return to it in a moment. But first, I will remind you that this phony approach to “addressing climate change” is not new.  Note, for example, that for many years now, the agribusinesses of the Midwest have enjoyed generous government support for the production of ethanol from corn.  And, of course, our Midwestern farmers love this arrangement and want it to continue. Unfortunately, scientists have also known for most of that funding period that the net benefit of this activity with respect to reducing CO2 emissions is near zip and might, in fact, be detrimental. Yet Congress continues to fund this program and uses it as an example of their efforts to address climate change. The only winners in this program are the agribusinesses involved.  Both the public and our environment get nothing for the tax dollars thereby spent.

Now concerning that federal budget recently passed in DC: Two portions of it are driven by opposing sides of the climate change debate and taken together, supposedly represented a “compromise” between the Republican and Democratic views.  In that bill, the Republicans are granted their request for lifting our country’s 40-year ban on oil exports.  For several reasons, that is a terrible idea. In their past requests for drilling allowances within the States, the fossil fuel corporations argued that the USA needs these new wells in order to become independent of foreign sources of oil.  So why then, would we want to export, rather than save, new sources of American oil when we find them? There is only one reason one can imagine for this – those US oil companies will make more money if they can sell that oil on the international market rather than saving it.  And most importantly, anyone concerned about climate change will recognize that the relaxation of that embargo will result in significantly increased CO2 emissions worldwide.  This bill tells the world that the USA is not, in fact, interested in reducing global CO2 emissions.

In exchange for lifting the embargo, a relative bone was thrown to the Democrats and they took it. That bone is allowing the federal tax credit program for the installation of solar panels and wind mills will be extended for a few years.  For several years now the US government has provided the renewable energy sector with tax credits for the installation of solar panels and wind mills.  I am well aware of those programs and have installed three panel systems on three different structures over the last 10 years and received about 30% of the total costs via tax credits.  While those panels work great and will continue to do so for several decades, they and the other renewables have not yet diminished the only number that matters in the fight against climate change.  That number, of course, is the background concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere. That number is now more than 40% greater than it was in the pre-industrial era and still increases every year – at an increasing rate every year.  While my solar panels have enabled me to use less fossil fuels than I otherwise might have used, the price of fossil fuels has simultaneously remained so low that our use of them still increases.  In short, the problem is not that we don’t have enough solar panels.  The problem is simply that we still use far too much fossil fuels and the “all of the above” energy policy we presently have does not sufficiently address our climate change problem – while it continues to give the public the mistaken impression that we are.

The only solution to our CO2 problem is to apply a stiff and continuously increasing carbon tax (or fee) on fossil fuel extraction. With this tax in place, there would be no need for tax credits and other handouts to the energy sector of our economy.  The establishment of this carbon tax is entirely fair, appropriate, and, in fact, necessary because we can longer afford to use our atmosphere as a free of charge waste dump for CO2.  A level playing field would thereby be created within the energy section on which American entrepreneurs would expand and streamline our alternate means of energy production.

Why this is not being done goes back, of course, to the ever-present forces of “Business-as-Usual”. These exceedingly mature forces still have the strongest grip on both of our political parties and prompted the legislation being discussed here as well as why it has been cynically called a “compromise”.

So there you have it. The fossil fuel boys are very pleased. The solar panel and windmill companies are also very pleased as are the corn-alcohol agribusinesses for the generous support they receive from Uncle Sam.  And the public and our environment are “schlonged”! (Note to reader:“schlonged” is a new word I just learned from a leading candidate for the US Presidency. If this person is elected, I suspect that this and other words of this sort will come into common usage in the USA. )

I think it was President Calvin Coleridge who said some 90 years ago “the business of government is business” and it appears that today’s congressmen still believe that. Our representatives in DC don’t seem to be able to do anything unless it is beneficial to the immediate interests of some industry or other.  What they don’t seem to recognize, however, is the fact that Mother Nature plays by Her own rules and She plays last.  So how about this idea?  Maybe we should start a new field in which “Her rules” are explored and identified. We could call it “science” and use its recommendations for showing Congress how to really address climate change in a manner that Mother Nature will pay some attention to.  Just a thought – call it a Christmas wish.

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