Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Climate War

Though you may not know it from the cable TV coverage, oil and gas corporations dumped millions of dollars into the US Midterm 2018 elections to defeat the major initiatives that could have slightly reduced fossil fuel use. Colorado’s local media effectively erased the term “climate change” from its election coverage. Some fossil fuel industry spokespeople are telling lawmakers that oil and gas companies really do want to work collaboratively on environmental issues. However, their behavior in the election proved that the industry is not operating in good faith. Oil and gas CEOs showed that they will gladly accelerate the climate crisis if doing so allows them to rake in more money.

In Colorado, where a drilling and fracking boom is happening in the middle of fast-growing suburbs. With oil and gas companies seeking to put noxious derricks and rigs near population centers, local activists backed a ballot measure called Proposition 112 that aimed to make sure new fossil fuel infrastructure is set a bit farther away from schools, hospitals, residential neighborhoods and water sources. The initiative was an angry response to a state government so awash in fossil fuel campaign cash that it has blocked legislation to merely allow regulators to prioritize the health and safety of residents when those regulators issue permits for drilling and fracking. According to an industry analysis, Proposition 112 would have left much of the oil and gas reserves near Denver accessible for extraction, but yes, it is true – at a time when climate scientists say we must keep fossil fuel deposits in the ground, there was a chance the initiative would have stopped some extraction.

The oil and gas industry could have looked across a Colorado ravaged by climate-intensified wildfires, droughts and floods and decided to accept the modest measure, knowing that the initiative is the absolute minimum that is required at this perilous moment. Instead, fossil fuel companies did the opposite: they poured $40m into opposing Proposition 112 and spreading insidious agitprop.
Despite scientists warning that fracked natural gas threatens to worsen climate change, oil and gas operatives in the state promoted cartoonishly dishonest claims that burning fossil fuel “is cleaning our air and improving health”. The industry managed to defeat the measure by outspending its proponents 40-to-1. In the process, fossil fuel companies’ scorched-earth campaign was a clear statement that in the face of an environmental cataclysm, oil and gas moguls will not accept even a tiny reduction in their revenues.
In Washington State, petroleum giants funneled $25m into defeating a proposal to require polluters to pay some of the costs of the climate change havoc they are wreaking. The measure, which would have assessed a $15  fee every ton of greenhouse gases they emit, was beaten with 56% of the vote after the industry’s ad campaign featured criticism from a former state attorney general – who viewers weren’t told now works at Chevron’s law firm. In all, $13m of the funding against the measure came from BP – a company that simultaneously claims to unsuspecting consumers that it supports a carbon tax.
In Arizona, you may have thought solar energy would be a fairly easy pitch. However, after the owner of the state’s major energy provider poured nearly $30m into the election, Arizonans soundly rejected a ballot initiative to force the utility to get more of its power from renewable sources.
In a single California county, the fossil fuel industry spent a whopping $8m to defeat a citizens’ initiative to ban new drilling and fracking.
The industry’s roughly $100m in campaign spending this year was not just about one individual election cycle. It was a shock-and-awe spectacle designed to intimidate any prospective campaigns, organizations, and movements that want to challenge the political supremacy of oil and gas – and some prominent Democrats in Washington seem to be cowering in fear.
The Hill newspaper surveyed lawmakers and major environmental groups, and found that “Democrats are unlikely to pursue major climate change legislation if they win the House majority, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting time is running out to address the issue.” The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, would only commit to reviving a moribund congressional committee to study the issue. The party recently rescinded its policy of rejecting fossil fuel campaign cash, as well as Democratic Representative Vicente Gonzalez of climate-ravaged Texas setting up a new Oil & Gas Caucus to promote the “economic benefits of fully harnessing the country’s natural resources”.  Former Bernie Sanders campaign aide Claire Sandberg tweeted: “Entire towns are burning to nothing in California. People are being incinerated alive in their cars attempting to flee. But a majority of Democrats still won’t reject fossil fuel money, and no one has put forward a climate plan that is remotely commensurate with the IPCC findings.”  
There are now 14 states that have the trifecta of Democratic control of the governorship and both legislative chambers. Those include major fossil fuel producing states such as Colorado, New Mexico and California. Democratic leaders in these states cannot claim that climate inaction is a product of Republican intransigence – the Democrats in these locales have uninhibited power.
Will those who truly care about the survival of humanity start treating this emergency as an actual emergency?

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