If corporations are threatened to be taxed or regulated by the government in ways that may reduce their profits, they use their riches to invest on K Street, (otherwise known as “Lobbyist Boulevard”) in Washington. Currently, there are over 34,000 lobbyists in the U.S. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the Citizens for Tax Justice, and Public Campaign, “forty-one companies (including GE, Microsoft, and Disney) ‘contributed’ $150 million to political parties and campaigns for U.S. Federal candidates between 1999 and 2001, and enjoyed $55billion in tax breaks in three tax years alone”. The Pharmaceutical industry employs the highest number of 3,000 lobbyists and has spent $759 million to influence 1,4000 congressional bills between 1998 and 2004.
The Climate Change awareness tipping point approaches, shoved to the precipice of rational understanding by four things: outspoken scientists, anecdotal observations of private citizens who see for themselves that climate is changing, the US release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, and the looming prospect of intensified storm damage. Being optimistic at root, Americans should have no shortage of ideas for coping with climate crisis. Blogs and mainstream print media regularly document the products, technologies, and services that can deliver high resource efficiency and climate change adaptive lifestyles. Sensing the market shift, industry seems ready to satisfy the ‘climate survivalist’ market, becoming designer’s of elegant efficiency. But progress has been slow, with the pragmatism of science and the response of free markets still constrained to a political, academic, and industrial minority.
Forget sending everyone a check for $100. What might Congress do that could benefit anyone, be flexible, and reduce per capita gasoline consumption year after year? By now most people have figured out that the only hybrid car that makes economic sense to own and is widely available is the Toyota Prius. A tax code that favors hybrids benefits primarily one brand and technology. That leaves out every other maker and other worthy technologies like diesel. Given the poor likelihood of picking up a used hybrid, what Congress has been considering in the last week is so far off the mark from being fair and of value for most drivers it’s laughable. What approach would solve all these problems? Here’s a hypothetical approach that could work for everyone and drive positive, continuous change.
The “Cold War” pitted developed nations against each other for a half-century, sustained by a small number of corporate surrogates who designed and supplied defenses. The “Hot War” era now emerging is driven by serious and immediate resource shortages and climate change at a global scale: things indivdual governments are very poorly positioned to control. The “Hot War” era will pit large corporations and small businesses against each other with great intensity of competition. As in recent times, occasionally corporations will band together to use national governments as surrogates in this struggle, advocating policies scripted by a Cold War era progeny called the “Think Tank”.
What happens when climate change policy intersects with the war on terror? Here is a sampling of what we’ve been saying to the world.
‘The Kyoto Convention is fundamentally flawed because developing nations don’t have to do their part’.
‘Developing nations can’t be trusted to enrich uranium to produce their own carbon free energy. They might use it to produce weapons of mass destruction’.
‘It’s OK for India to use nuclear technology to produce electricity because that will free up oil to meet transportation demand in the US’ (hint that something is amiss: oil is little used to generate electricity; natural gas is).
‘China can’t buy a US oil company but they can buy all the oil and gas they want from Iran, so that it [China] can make the goodies we want’.
‘American industries can sell nuclear generating station equipment to China and India: a good thing for balance of trade and because nuclear energy is carbon-free’.
Is your head spinning yet?
No…the title is not about “green tags” or stock picks. It’s about figuring out how the majority of US citizens who simply “don’t buy it”…”it” being the risk posed by climate change to personal health, to all of earth’s living systems, and to our children’s future…will sit up and pay attention to the management of climate risk.
For this to happen, we conservationists, environmentalists, green designers…let them call us whatever they like… need to escape our own denial about the Seriously Bad News all around us. The reality is that only a minority of the US population would, under present circumstance, allow their attitudes and behaviors to be influenced by the climate models, formal risk analysis, or pictures of melting glaciers. The reasons are several and powerful. Consider: A substantial percent of US citizens are illiterate. A great many of us think that the historic photos of humans walking on the moon were Hollywood-staged (a strong clue about the power of superstition and ignorance of technology). Perhaps a quarter of us believe that dinosaurs crowded into a literal Noah’s Ark. Many more of us think that a free market somehow magically synchronizes with nature’s demands (MBAs are taught this in Harvard Business School. If you paid a half million for your degree you might be defensive about someone saying everything you learned is wrong). Privately funded Think Tanks attack grade school curricula that encourage recycling and anything else “green”. And capping it off, broadcast media skip the reporting of facts and plausible alternatives in favor of single-minded political opinion. It’s good for the ratings. And, of course, those who would be most influenced by “science” apparently hold little political power at the Federal level.