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To address climate change, stop focusing on global warming

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Rick Staggenborg, MD     Permalink
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From flickr.com/photos/116378748@N03/15324188225/: #PeoplesClimate: Faith Contingent & Unitarian Universalists
#PeoplesClimate: Faith Contingent & Unitarian Universalists
(image by Peter.Bowden)

Earth Day has passed, but the task of saving the Earth continues. Since the annual observance of the first large scale People's conference on the environment has become in many cases a memorial to past victories and in others a celebration of greenwashing, it's true purpose now may be to inspire us to take the time to reassess our strategies for accomplishing our most important goals.

As world temperatures continue to hit record highs year after year since the turn of the century, an increasing number of climate change skeptics are admitting that global warming is real. The problem is that most resisted the idea in the first place because it was too frightening.

Now they look for reasons to argue it is not an emergency. The problem is not that they are too frightened to face the reality of the human consequences if they are wrong: they are clearly capable of believing what they want to believe. Despite the scientific consensus that the phenomenon most of them denied until recently is real and caused by human activity, they are still willing to bet their children's future that they are right and the vast majority of the scientific community is wrong. Therefore, it behooves those of us trying to get something done about climate change to start using some different arguments.

Naomi Klein pointed out in This Changes Everything that the real fear that is causing so many people to be in denial is the recognition that any real solution short of a miraculous scientific breakthrough would require violating the first commandment of free market theology:

"The government shalt not mess with the right of transnational corporations to extract the maximum profit out of their activities regardless of the environmental and other human costs."

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If we want to generate support for serious action to halt dependence on fossil fuels, we need to come up with arguments that do not depend on violating the dictates of the imaginary free market that most Americans believe real. Those who cash in on their gullibility have convinced them that regulation is root of all economic problems. In truth of course, it is the lack of rules to assure truly competitive markets that has undermined the stability of traditionally defined capitalism faster than its inherent flaw of requiring continuous growth would have alone. Perhaps they can be educated eventually, but getting people to question the almost religious belief that capitalism as they understand it is the ideal economic system cannot be done in time to save the planet from almost certain destruction. Here are a few arguments for getting off fossil fuels that do not require abandoning free market principles.

The costs of maintaining the world's largest military should be added to fuel costs

My favorite argument is one that should appeal to the millions of Ron Paul fans who agree with his isolationism. Far from accepting the neocon use of the term as an insult, they recognize that refusal to engage in war for corporate Empire is consistent with real conservative principles. Making the case that US foreign interventions in recent history have been mostly about gaining control of fossil fuel resources is not difficult. This reduces the competition that is supposed to keep prices low in free markets. On top of that, around 50% of the US discretionary budget is spent on a military that acts as the muscle for the oil and gas oligarchs when the US has no real global rival. These wars have created a costly domestic surveillance system that is an affront to the rights of a free people. It is hard to see how any real conservative could object to ending the support of global conflicts for access to fossil fuels. In the process, it would also cut the tremendous amount of fuels used by a bloated US military.

Free market principles predict that prices will inexorably rise

This argument is simpler and easier to understand for those who don't think deeply about politics or economics. It is obvious that as long as our dependence on fossil fuels continues, accessible supplies become more expensive. Prices will rise, especially when demand begins to exceed extractable supplies. This cycle of rising prices might have already happened if not for the slowdown in the global economy the banksters produced, even if it would have still been obscured by Saudi Arabia's decision to overproduce as a weapon against an Iran desperate for oil revenue. Americans loathe any rise in gas prices. If they know that the increases would continue indefinitely and that the Wall Street types who have repeatedly wiped out their wealth before demanding to be bailed out by taxpayers were the chief beneficiaries, their loyalty to the system might be shaken.

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Fossil fuels are protected from free market influences by the government it has corrupted

Everyone knows government has been corrupted by fossil fuels and other special interest money in politics. Making them bear the true costs of our dependence on fossil fuels can help turn the tide in favor of renewables in the market. Oil and gas are hardly subject to free market forces when they are subsidized by US taxpayers to the tune of $37.5 billion per year. Worldwide, that figure might be as much as $1 trillion. And these subsidies do not begin to cover the real costs of pollution and health care costs paid for by localities in affected areas. Despite these advantages, renewables are increasingly becoming competitive in a variety of markets, even without subsidies. One expert estimated that sometime this year, solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels in half the states. Renewables are already cheaper in Australia, most of the developing world and 42 of the largest 50 cities in the US. How much faster could we reach emissions goals if fossil fuels were not so heavily subsidized?

How can fossil fuels compete with free energy?

Some authors point out that individual rooftop solar does not produce energy as cheaply as either fossil fuel- or renewably generated power, but this does not change the fact that after upfront costs are paid, power is free to the homeowner or municipality that owns public buildings powered by solar. In addition, it can generate income from the sale of excess energy generated. It pays for itself, and with falling prices does so much faster than just a few years ago. That should be a big inducement for those to whom the issue of addressing global warming is purely an economic one. In addition, the idea of freeing ourselves from the grip of an industry that is usually monopolistic should appeal to the free market true believer. If it destroys the centralized power industry, so what? That is what is supposed to happen in a free market when an industry becomes obsolete. In the process, the number of jobs produced will dwarf those lost. The only losers in this scheme are those who are so determined to see every penny of profit they can squeeze from a dying planet that they refuse to minimize their losses by getting out before it is too late.

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I am a former Army and VA psychiatrist who ran for the US Senate in 2010 on a campaign based on a pledge to introduce a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood. Now that the general public is beginning to understand the (more...)

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