One of the largest roadblocks that limit efforts to secure a safe global climate for the 21st century and beyond is that our elected representatives are trapped in an abusive relationship with the fossil fuel industry.
Fossil fuel interests are the real incumbents in the political process. They don’t rest between elections, they work the crowds 24/7/365 through misleading advertising, sponsorships of our public airwaves and massive expenditures on lobbying and campaign contributions.
The industry-funded climate denial echo chamber of front groups and influence peddlers use every tobacco industry tactic and unethical PR trick in the book to convince people there’s nothing to worry about. Their product is doubt and confusion, and there seems to be a large market for this sort of delusion and denial, particularly among elected officials.
This noise machine seeks to delay any action on climate change, to literally volunteer the planet to fire and floods and ensure we live on a much more uncomfortable planet for generations to come.
If the American public were immunized against this disinformation, and instead heard the science stated clearly by politicians and the media, without the phony balance setup that pits an oil lobbyist against a climatologist as if they’re equally qualified to discuss science, we would probably be taking serious action by now.
But fossil fuel interests are able to spend a relatively small amount of money, compared to their enormous profits, in order to delay action and simultaneously protect the massive public welfare provided to them by taxpayers. They even stoop to aggressively attacking clean energy iniatives, particularly any attempts made by President Barack Obama.
Barack Obama spoke repeatedly about the need to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels and tackle climate change during the 2008 campaign, and continued to do so early in his presidency.
"Because after one president in the pocket of the oil companies – we can’t afford another. For the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we must end the age of oil in our time."
- candidate Barack Obama, Youngstown, Ohio, August 5, 2008
“…the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it -- boldly, swiftly, and together -- we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”
- President Obama’s United Nations speech, Copenhagen, Denmark, November 22, 2009
"I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can, I will work with anyone to get this done and we will get it done. The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward."
- President Barack Obama, June 2, 2010
But the President has been limited in his ability to act on these promises in any significant way, due chiefly to the immense power that the fossil fuel lobby has over Congress, limiting any president’s ability to change the status quo.
Anyone holding out hope for Obama to act more boldly if elected for a second term – myself included – needs to remember that the fossil fuel incumbents will fight him every step of the way. We must be ready to fight back.
Meanwhile, the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has flip-flopped on the threat of manmade climate change and now says “we don’t know what’s causing climate change” – an anti-science position shared by nearly everyone in the GOP. Romney’s campaign press secretary, Andrea Saul, cut her teeth attacking climate science during her tenure as a polluter lobbyist at DCI Group, one of the PR firms that represents ExxonMobil. And Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is a full-blown climate change denier.
When it comes to the issue of climate change, the difference between the 2012 presidential candidates is enormous.
So who can solve the fundamental challenge of ending the unfair advantage that fossil fuels enjoy over renewables?
New research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute demonstrates that the total value of global fossil fuel subsidies is estimated at between $775 billion and more than $1 trillion in 2012. For comparison, the total subsidies for renewable energy stood at $66 billion in 2010, a pittance compared to dirty energy subsidies.
Isn’t it time for our elected leaders to fix this fundamental problem? World leaders agreed in 2009 to end fossil fuel subsidies, but due to the influence of dirty energy lobbyists and campaign spending, nothing has actually been done to meet this commitment.
The citizens of every nation need to push their leaders to follow through with action, not just empty promises. That will include pressuring the next president of the United States to end polluter welfare in our own country.
It’s time to get our politicians to break up with polluters, and get serious about addressing climate change. We know what needs to happen, and most of the necessary steps to de-carbonize our economies also happen to be wise moves to build resilience in our communities, strengthen our national security and safeguard our drinking water and health.
Now, if only we could place a restraining order on polluter bullies and keep them away from our democracy, we might just succeed in limiting the damage to ‘just’ 2 degrees of warming Celsius, already a terrible fate. That would beat the terrifying prospect of continuing with the status quo, as Bill McKibben explained so chillingly in his recent Rolling Stone article.
Unless we limit the power of polluters over democracy, our future does not look like much fun. Let’s not go there, shall we?