The race to cash in on the appearance of sustaining up enjoys a complement: the pedaling of outright falsehoods about anthropogenic climate change. Automakers, coal suppliers and oil companies find a certain logic in turning to every available scrap of uncertainty to put off a transition that will cost them their competitive advantage. Plus, the status quo has much to recommend it; our corporate natural resource middle men benefit from the fact that people generally prefer not to unpack this hideous little suitcase. Even Elie Wiesel didn’t care what Bernie Madoff was up to when he was seeing returns of 30 percent.
The Global Climate Coalition, a fossil fuel lobby, in public:
“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.
And in private:
“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.
While policy makers and national pundits may have begun to debate whether human activity could dangerously warm the planet, large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries are quietly moving onto the next phase of their strategy. What they might call sowing tactical doubt into the discussion, we generally call lying.
As we might begin to see movements afoot to change our habits, industry groups are likely only in the early stages of their slow walk. Seemingly intractable conditions linking our transportation and industrial infrastructure to the energy past pale in comparison to the abyss presently being contemplated by the fossil fuel industry. Two factors that should be enough on their own to direct their attention elsewhere – running low on product, one laying waste to earth and sky – are being compounded by a third: the lonely choice economics of the investment in dirty energy. Suppliers and their proxies will reluctantly begin taking part in the debate on how extensively we might respond to rising temperatures in exchange for our agreeing to do nothing at all about emissions limits or demand-side incentives. How generous.
The untenable politics of the situation, which will lead to an unnecessary and unaffordable backlash against corporations, confirm the contagion of bad advice that has brought the finance industry to its nadir. One party, having ceded its interests to the waiting game, is shrinking before our eyes. As long as the Republicans are going to neither be nor represent good faith negotiating partners, they might as well send out former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) to do their bidding. Is there a conservative energy policy? How would we know, with a level of discourse designed to attack opponents instead of the problem? Here’s Gingrich testifying before Congress on the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation, taking on not a volatile planetary imbalance, but former Vice President Al Gore:
“I am an amateur paleontologist. I would be glad to take the Vice President to the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History, where we can all look at all sorts of marine invertebrate life, which is collected as fossils because in fact, they use carbon quite effectively.”
Alright, so corporations and their proxies lie. Man the fainting couches. But please bring extras for the rending of fine garments that takes place in boardrooms from Avenue A westward when these same companies complain about fairness and government intervention. This is the actual hustle we have facilitated for over a century – our companies get to have it both ways, to serve us and to charge us. The promotion of a right to profit has extended beyond a right to lie that, because it is merely legal, authorizes common destruction as a kind of progress. We allow firms to pollute and dare us to do anything about it, even decide to enact laws to curtail the pollution or expend resources to clean up the mess.
We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that companies would somehow go elsewhere if not allowed to pollute or evade reasonable taxation at will. Despite the flags and soldiers and kids in their commercials, companies cannot be especially concerned with the land beneath them, save for its exploitable resources. The game advertised is simply not the game being played. Even the planet is a balance sheet item and represents a situation so skewed toward the obsolescence even of profit itself that we must begin to ask: What will they want next?
The question is the same as that we put to a child after a fit we indulge, as should be our cautions against indulgence. We’ll start showing them some respect when they begin doing the same.
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