The Planet Still Groans, Not That We’d Hear It

by James P. Lenfestey, via the Star Tribune

Under the headline “U.S. energy lobby hits the campaign trail,” the Financial Times reported on June 6: “The American Petroleum Institute [API] has announced rallies in 15 states, most of them key battlegrounds for the presidential election, and has been advertised widely.”

The API’s so-called nonpartisan arm organizing these events, “Vote 4 Energy,” is headed by Jack Gerard, a close friend of Mitt Romney and, should Romney win the presidency, a top candidate to be his chief of staff.

And, according to Kantar Media CMAG, “more than 80 per cent of the 16,991 negative ads broadcast across the U.S. in April concerned energy and overwhelmingly opposed Mr. Obama.”

Others have reported that lobbying expenditures for energy-sector companies increased by 92 percent from 2007 to 2009, when climate-change bills were actively debated in Congress.

This is not to mention the constant chattering against climate science on Fox News, right-wing radio, websites and faux think tanks bankrolled by energy billionaires like David and Charles Koch and a few others.

Anyone still wonder why climate change is not at the center of the U.S. presidential campaign? Or why there is not one iota of optimism that the once-promising Earth Summit on sustainability underway in Rio de Janeiro this week will produce any agreement of substance?

Meanwhile, the beleaguered scientific and economic community is increasing its already harsh alarms about climate change and its costs. The June 7 edition of the respected scientific journal Nature, under the headline “Return to Rio: Second chance for the planet,” despaired over the lack of promise for the Earth Summit: “It is hard to avoid a certain sense of gloom, if not doom,” the editors wrote. “Despite progress on some issues — ozone loss, for example — the disconnect between science and politics seems to be growing, not shrinking.”

The conservative British magazine The Economist agrees. Its June 16 special report, “The Vanishing North,” dispassionately discussed the pros and cons of Arctic economic exploitation as the ice rapidly disappears. Nevertheless, it opined that “the world would be mad to ignore” the “grave” dangers: “The impact of the melting Arctic may have calamitous effect on the planet.”

Yet, voters hear little about these “grave dangers” in regular election coverage, and few have an inkling that a once-promising, planet-saving Earth Summit is going on at all.

The disconnect between politics and climate change is especially pronounced in America, where the fossil-fuel lobby is entrenched and aggressive, with a history of bending the facts and winning elections, and where one of the two major political parties has taken the shameful ostrich position that all the world’s climate scientists are simply wrong.

The two are linked. Remember Bush vs. Gore? You may think that election in 2000 was decided by a few votes in Florida, or by the Supreme Court. The fossil-fuel industry and Republicans know that the few deciding votes were cast in West Virginia.

That election pitted Bush-Cheney, overt oil industry representatives, vs. wonky Al Gore Jr., who studied climate science at Harvard and held the first congressional hearings to publicize the concern, which had been quietly discussed in government circles as far back as the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

The fossil-fuel industries threw everything they had to prevent a Gore presidency. As reported in Minnesota attorney Barbara Freese’s excellent book, “Coal: A Human History,” West Virginia’s coal industry took the lead in raising unprecedented sums of money and support for George W. Bush and ultimately delivered the state by 52 percent. Freese cites a Wall Street Journal report that top White House staffers agreed “it was basically a coal-fired victory.” If Bush had not won West Virginia’s traditionally Democratic five electoral votes, Gore would have won the election.

Yet very little campaign coverage in 2000 or since has stressed the roles of black vs. green energy, even though they represent one of the major differences between the two candidates and parties.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” has been the political frame since the Clinton years, but that was before the evidence of climate change was so hot we could touch it (31 states broke heat records this spring, and this week’s Duluth deluge certainly fits a pattern of more-extreme weather events).

Today, it is inexcusable that the political frame is not “it’s the economy and the environment, stupid.” Yet journalists have so far not learned that lesson, and therefore neither have voters. One party, and one industry, like it that way. Their children, not to mention the grandchildren, will not.

James P. Lenfestey is a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune covering energy and education. This piece was originally published at the Star Tribune and was reprinted with permission.

14 Responses to The Planet Still Groans, Not That We’d Hear It

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    Great op-ed, choc-a-bloc w/facts supporting opinion.

    Everything in the piece suggests that Obama needs to confront API and their creature Romney head-on. “Silence is no protection” and while Obama does not have the advantage of having the Supreme Court in his pocket w/all the advantages entailed (Citizens United etc.) the bully pulpit still works.

  2. Harry Middlemas says:

    I know Romney would be a disaster but a vote for Obama does not feel that much different. He is so much in the pocket of corporations (well that is the only explanation I can come up with) that the difference between the two does not seem like much. Maybe like an addict we need to reach bottom before we start the long climb back up to sanity. My fantasy is that Jill Stein can get enough votes to at least scare the other parties, even a little. With two little kids to think about the current state of affairs is quite disturbing. Bit of a ramble sorry.


  3. Doug Bostrom says:

    Yeah, no difference. Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan– what does it matter, who can tell them apart?

    Here’s a clue: check the roster of opinions handed down by the Supreme Court.

  4. BillD says:

    Notice that Romney is a creature of API and that his administration is likely to have API officers has ranking members. Also notic that API is focusing their attack on Obama. Somehow, I don’t see Obama and Romney as “more or less the same,” although I do wish that Obama would start drawing a stronger contrast in his rhetoric.

    Also notic that Obama has suported green energy while Romney supports the tea party/GOP aggenda of dismantling alternative energy, letting China control the world market and supporting tax breaks for fossil fuels. Again, the difference between these two candidates seems clear.

    Also note that Obama appointed noted scientists, such as Steven Chu and Jane Lubchenko to leadership positions while Romney plans to follow Bush in appointing fossil fuel lobbiests and corporate hacks to leadership positions over energy and the environment.

  5. Doug Bostrom says:

    All good points and true, information freely available for people who bother to look for it. Unfortunately the funnel-eyed glued to televisions have not got a chance to know any of these things.

    Certainly nobody watching television is likely to know why they’re suddenly being bombarded with record-setting amounts of drivel. SuperPac spending this year is expecting to exceed $1 billion, with the vast majority of that money flowing into television industry coffers.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    Just to be more clear, Citizens United has caused a profound political crisis in this country that is practically invisible to most citizens except inasmuch as television is part of the disaster. Nobody’s likely to learn this from television because of self-interest on the part of broadcasters.

  7. Mark E says:

    Whoever wins the white house will put a large stamp on the next IPCC report, due out in 2014.

    Obama does not win my vote for what he is doing, he just wins my vote on my belief he will not get in IPCC’s way too badly.

  8. Ken Barrows says:

    The “no difference” part is that both parties espouse a no limits to growth philosophy. For example, Pres Obama with the “100 years of natural gas” b.s.

    With that similarity, the differences are pretty trivial, aren’t they?

  9. Doug Bostrom says:

    The Supreme Court is not trivial; justices appointed are reverberation of a presidency that lasts decades.

    Here’s a simple question: Was Citizens United trivial jurisprudence? Does it make no difference today?

    I’m going to be rude and suggest that anybody who says they cannot see the importance of Supreme Court nominations is either disingenuous or stupid.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    His regime actively sabotaged Rio plus 20-what makes you imagine that he’ll leave the IPCC unmolested?

  11. Doug Bostrom says:

    Mulga prefers Romney.

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    Sorry, let me amend that: the effect of Mulga’s speech is as though he prefers Romney though I’m certain he does not.

    This isn’t a playground where if everything does not go to your liking the best thing is to stop playing, go off in a corner and sulk. Once you’ve done your venting you -must- participate.

    Look at the way SCOTUS decisions are coming down today. Is there any doubt that Citzens United would be left intact were it not for the present composition of the court? Look at how Obama’s appointees voted on the issue.

    Grow up.

  13. ANGRY BADGER says:

    The SCOTUS struck down Montana’s elections law today. Democracy in this country is an endangered species. And like when a species goes extinct, the actual effects will take a few years ot assert themselves. By then, the damage may be too severe to fix.

  14. J4zonian says:

    Maybe the rest of us are not the ones who need to mature, Doug. This is a complex question; looking at it simplistically will not help us. Insulting those who can look at its complexities will help even less.

    Obama and most Democratic office holders have shown such lukewarm lip service support of green energy, and avoidance of honest confrontation of the reality of climate cataclysm that it is going to lead us to virtually the same end as the Republican agenda: collapse of civilization, mass extinction, and a good dollop of suffering all around while it’s happening. And that lukewarm lip service, as yucky as that sounds, is the absolute best Dems do, when they’re not actively blocking progress. (As Obama has done at every COP and conference since he got elected, through threats, bribery, and secret deals.) The worst Republican could hardly have done any worse, and the Dems lip service dampens popular protest and other real actions.

    It’s entirely possible that the Democrats have done more damage than the Republicans, but in any case, both major parties are collaborating, consciously or not, to propel us toward disaster. Focusing on one particular aspect of governing (SCOTUS) will similarly not help much, especially since both parties have collaborated in bringing right wing fanatics like Roberts to the bench.

    We are trapped in a system of unconsciousness like a dysfunctional family; it’s time we learned that and addressed it by becoming more aware ourselves rather than react unconsciously and making everything worse.