By V.B. PRICE
It’s a question one just has to ask. Has the Republican Party’s almost religious devotion to fossil fuels lead the way to America’s enormous and shameful contribution to global warming?
Has Steve Pearce’s near fanatical support of the fossil fuel industry in New Mexico done the same?
If you don’t believe humans have contributed to the disastrous speeding up of atmospheric heating, then supporting the industries that are largely responsible for CO2 emissions is simply a political and economic decision. And what a handy out that is – to dismiss world scientific opinion so your business patrons can make so much money they practically control human destiny.
And how even more convenient it is when your patrons themselves are the overwhelming financial supporters of climate-change deniers, flooding the marketplace of ideas with enough propaganda to disguise the millions and millions of dollars they spend in spinning tales to support their own self-interested enterprise.
But, of course, the fossil fuel industries, with their lavish taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks are not “special interests,” according to their clients in Congress.
Republicans routinely say their view on fossil fuels is good for America, and that it’s the Democrats who are catering to “special interests” when they oppose legislation that tries to move America ever closer to completely deregulating fossil fuel exploration and production.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t think public health and a stable climate are special interests, as Republicans and their PR juggernaut seem to proclaim.
Although Democrats have sided overwhelmingly with the fossil fuel industry in the past, recently progressives like New Mexico’s two Democratic Congresspersons have moved in another direction.
Late last month, while Pearce was supporting the deregulation of oil and gas exploration on the deep sea Continental Shelf shared by the United States and Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan were voting for Democratic bills and amendments trying to prevent disasters like the 2010 B.P. explosion and release of millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf Coast Region.
Late last month Republicans, including Pearce, voted to exempt US oil and gas corporations from financial transparency rules in drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, including about one and a half million acres in Mexican waters agreed to in a treaty with Mexico last year. Pearce and fellow Republications also squelched a Democratic amendment, supported by Grisham and Lujan, that would have required federal management and oversight of those drilling operations. Now the only folks with oversight are the corporations who lobby against any kind of regulation, accept vast subsidies, and are the major climate change deniers.
These are the same companies, and political clients, who have made the United States number one in contributing to climate change, with China second but a long way back. According to ABC News last year in its reporting on “Nature and the Environment,” the United States has contributed almost 27 percent of the CO2 into the world’s atmosphere from the beginning of the industrial revolution to 2010. China’s contribution is just under ten percent. Granted, we had a head start, but that doesn’t change what’s happened.
To deflect their culpability, the fossil fuel industry considers anyone who uses their products, especially by driving a car, and criticizes them, to be a hypocrite. Of course the fossil fuel industry has lobbied endlessly against viable alternative energy sources and alternative fuels. The options they’ve left us, other than their products, are next to nil. I drive a car fueled by gasoline. If I had a viable alternative, I would choose it. But options to using fossil fuels have been closing since the mid l930s, most famously in Los Angeles when the Big Red and the Big Yellow electric trolleys and their rail lines were ripped up and replaced with gas guzzling buses. Did the trolleys run on fossil fuel energy? No, they ran on hydroelectric power from the Owens Valley.
Climate change does odd things. When you add vast amounts of heat trapping CO2 into the atmosphere, you’re just begging for trouble. Wind and solar energy don’t add CO2, nor does using hydrogen fuel in one’s car. But it’s almost taboo to talk about them.
Bill McKibben, who’s done more than almost anyone to alert the world to climate change disasters ahead, made it elegantly clear what happens when you add heat to the atmosphere. In a review he wrote in the June 20, 2013 New York Review of Books about engineer Henry Petroski’s book To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, he explained it like this:
Raising the global temperature by about a degree, “we’ve amped up the amount of energy trapped in our narrow envelope of atmosphere, and hence every process that feeds off that energy is now accelerating.”
He continues: “For instance, this piece of simple physics: warm air holds more water vapor than cold. Already we’ve increased moisture in the atmosphere by about 4 percent on average, thus increasing the danger of both drought because heat is evaporating more surface water, and of flood, because evaporated water must eventually come down as rain” somewhere.
And so we have terrible drought in New Mexico and in the Colorado River Basin, a European heat wave in 2003, disastrous hurricanes like Katrina, Irene, and Sandy, tornadoes this early summer with wind speeds up to 300 miles an hour, the Mississippi flooding so powerfully that the only option to save cities on its banks was to ruin crop land by breaking down levees and letting the water drain into the fields.
In all of this, corporate climate change deniers in their clients in Washington push for ever more use of fossil fuels and, therefore, ever more increases in temperature with what is now inevitably catastrophic consequences.
And there’s Steve Pearce leading the charge, voting, according to OnTheIssues.org, to open the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling, to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, to deny tax credits to renewable electricity and renewable energy in general, to deny investment in homegrown biofuels, and to block efforts to end oil and gas exploration subsidies.
And while Pearce introduced legislation to create a solar energy program on federal lands, it was a token move in that he also signed a pledge offered by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and others, which reads “I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
His is only one nail in the coffin of rational alternatives to fossil fuels, but Pearce pounded it in proudly and defiantly. That coffin could well prove to be our own.
Many thanks to V.B. Price and Benito Aragon, editors of the New Mexico Mercury, where this essay first appeared.