Charge of the Climate Brigade, Earth Day, 2017
Updated: Nov 20, 2017
As this year marks the forty-seventh anniversary of Earth Day, I am struck by how combative the topic of climate change has become. From my purview, our efforts seem so underwhelming in light of the recent shift in energy policy here in the U.S. Having recently volunteered to help our local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a potent, bipartisan lobbying group committed to a carbon fee and dividend approach to reducing carbon emissions, I discovered how inadequately armed we all are to face off against the fossil fuel industry. Even with the strong bilateral support for the CCL carbon policy, it will be a bitter fight.
“Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon behind them, volleyed and thundered: While horse and hero fell, into the mouth of Hell.”¹
Poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson certainly wasn’t referring to a group of citizens marching in opposition to fossil fuel companies, and while the imminent danger is markedly different, the odds are similar. We aren’t exactly light cavalry running headlong into heavy artillery but considering how slow the response has been to greening our energy industry, our opponent is equally as entrenched. Many of my environmentalist friends tell me that they feel so embattled today—curiously, facing Russian opposition again. And while we don’t have to face off against cannon fire from all sides, we are being opposed, to be sure. The political influence of the fossil fuel companies is at an all-time high. Having Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and Ryan Zinke in cabinet posts is example enough. Their ongoing war on the science behind climate change is more than just self-serving, it has become a highly successful political ploy. It is no coincidence that these select individuals hail from Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, considering their states’ deep connections to the fossil fuel industry. Wyoming is the largest coal producing state by a wide margin, for example.²
When an entire economy does not factor in pollution and the industrialization of natural resources, it is founded on a lie. The campaign to pit business against the environment is a tired old tactic of the fossil fuel industry. As if we have no choice but to burn fossil fuels to keep our citizens employed. The job growth suggests something quite different: Solar and wind energy jobs have outpaced the economy by 20% according to a study by the Environmental Defense Fund.³ The muzzling of scientific data and environmental education as well as their spokespersons is just another way that the fossil fuel industry keeps their grip on our economy. We all know that the burning of their product is greatly responsible for the climate crisis we're in but we are divided by a political chasm heavily influenced by the Exxon Mobil’s and Koch Industries. Eliminating fuel efficiency standards, dumping waste into our waterways, mining federal lands, expanding pipelines to transport oil and gas, approving toxic pesticide use, and delisting endangered species, to name a few, make no common sense to the majority of Americans. None of us voted for those measures to be enacted unless one had a direct connection to the fossil fuel industry. Yet, somehow, here we are watching this all-out assault on the environment, and the renewal of an economy enabled by our deep addiction to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
As I saddled up to go into battle by attending my recent CCL meeting, I discovered that Massachusetts legislators are mostly in agreement with the CCL legislative approach. And, overall, CCL’s momentum is slowly gaining traction nationwide; as of now 36 members of Congress have joined the CCL Caucus. Many of them are from Florida--Not a coincidence since they are already an early victim of climate change. They’ve seen the data and they have seen firsthand the consequences. But the numbers are staggering when it comes to halting climate change to a two-degree Celsius level. We’ll have to reach a near zero emissions scenario by midcentury to achieve it. That is a death knell to many of the world's most profitable companies--and they know that. They aren't about to tell us the truth about their impact on climate change nor should we expect it. But to know that as many people die annually from air pollution as from tobacco means that fossil fuel companies are as complicit in the destruction of human lives as tobacco companies have been for centuries. Then why are we letting them run our government, we never let tobacco companies have that much political power? If we don’t act now we’ll be in the headlock of fossil fuel companies for decades to come until they are forced to show up in Congress with their tails between their legs. By then we may have waited too long. So, on this Earth Day, I’m going to march in reply--with good reason why.
¹Tennyson, A. T., Provensen, A., Provensen, M., Golden Press., & Paul Hamlyn Ltd. (1964). Alfred Lord Tennyson's charge of the Light Brigade. New York: Golden Press
² U.S. Energy Information Administration. Which States Produce the Most Coal. (Updated 2017, February 17). Frequently Asked Questions: Which States Produce the Most Coal. Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=69&t=2
³ Crowe, J., Delaney, L., Gessesse, E., Grady, N., Hanley, K., Marchyshyn, A., McKeon, N., Whitehouse, K. (N.D.). Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs. Retrieved from Environmental Defense Fund website: http://edfclimatecorps.org/sites/edfclimatecorps.org/files/casestudy/the_growth_of_americas_clean_energy_and_sustainability_jobs.pdf