Laury Hamburg, a retired college professor from Chicago who resides in Smackover, Ark., told me a story the other day when we had lunch together. It seems that a pirate ship was on the verge of sinking. It was in sight of land but couldn’t reach it. The pirate captain told his men that they would all have to risk swimming to shore if they wanted to live. However, he didn’t want to abandon the stolen treasure they had on board. He told the crewmen that they were welcome to keep as much treasure as they could pocket or pack before swimming ashore. Heavily laden with treasure, not one was able to reach land, nor was any one of them willing to empty his pockets so as to save his life. That story is also pertinent to the issue of climate change.
In his last – and best – State of the Union address, President Barack Obama challenged his opponents: “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”
The question is this: Who are these lonely people and why are they denying common sense and the scientific data? Specifically, the “who” are those in the Fox-Republican- TEA Party who currently control both houses of Congress. Many of them are themselves members of the plutocracy, while others are merely mercenaries of the extremely rich.
The “why” is purely greed, and this leads to anarchistic and sociopathic behavior. Everything they do seems to promote one major cause: to live in the past – the past of the late 19th century, the Gilded Age, when profiteers from the fossil fuel industries (oil and coal) and financiers “owned” our Congress, paid no income taxes, and faced no regulations to protect the common good. The GOP has become the Guardian of Polluters and/or the Guardian of Privilege. This helps explain the GOP’s 7-year policy to obstruct and sabotage virtually anything Obama was elected to do – except free-trade deals, of course.
In 1977, a time when we believed we would soon run out of oil resources, Exxon’s own scientists discovered that burning fossil fuels was heating up the planet and that there was only a short window – about 5 years – before the impact would begin to become very serious. With the Industrial Revolution expanding after 1860, the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere began increasing at alarming rates. Other than the obvious smokestack pollution, it went unnoticed for years.
Unfortunately, once it was realized that we were not going to run out of oil anytime soon, Exxon silenced its scientists and began a campaign of climate-change denial to create public doubt. We can all understand why scientists who work for fossil fuel industries might be among the meager 3% of scientists who deny man-made climate change – their jobs depend on it.
Now that their cover-up has become public knowledge, the now ExxonMobil is once again admitting that climate change is occurring and is caused by our burning fossil fuels. The industrial giant is also quietly recommending a carbon tax on polluters such as themselves to partly address the issue.
The real test of sincerity for ExxonMobil will be this: Will they stop contributing to politicians who make sure that nothing or very little is done to remedy the problem. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is known as “the senator from ExxonMobil” and is the guy who threw a snowball in the Senate to prove there’s no such thing as global warming. Believe it or not, he’s the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Will Big Oil stop financing his campaigns or persuade him to change his positions on climate change? We’ll see, but don’t hold your breath.
The Koch brothers, David and Charles, inherited their fortunes and increased them to mega-billions thanks to fossil fuels. I have contended that the main purpose of the David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is to make visitors presume that the current climate change is a natural occurrence like the earlier climate changes.
The Kochs are also determined to continue turning the GOP into a subsidiary of Koch Industries. They and their like-thinking plutocrats have pledged nearly a billion dollars to spend on the GOP’s presidential nominee and effectively buy a “Republican” president who will do their bidding. (That is – someone who will ignore climate change, accelerate income inequality, weaken or kill the social safety net, and eliminate regulatory standards.) That will double what the Republican National Committee will spend in the 2016 campaign. You can see why GOP candidates audition for the Koch brothers’ support every chance they get.
Among the current horde of GOP presidential contenders, only two even recognize the reality of climate change. Nevertheless, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) objected to the December agreement in Paris because it was not in the form of a treaty which would have to be ratified by the GOP-controlled Senate – that means he wants to make sure that nothing is done. And as for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), he doesn’t believe that our government should take any action – and this guy comes from a state which will be mostly underwater as the oceans rise.
I have previously contended that the GOP pretends that climate science is a religion that can be believed in or not. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is a climate-change denier like the rest of the GOP presidential field, came right out and said it: “Climate change is a religion.” He realizes that 60% of GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina are evangelicals, so he’s hoping to get their anti-science vote. And he’s giving the other demagogue – the Donald – a serious challenge.
So, will we allow plutocratic greed and the political greed for campaign financing replicate the fate of that pirate captain and his crew? Hopefully, we will vote to rid ourselves of the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, decrease our emissions of greenhouse gases, increase our development of renewable energy, and try to save our planet. Elections really do have consequences.
By David Offutt
A version of this essay was published January 22, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.