By Ralph Nader
Scientists agree. Businesses agree. Economists agree. Even the Pentagon agrees — climate change must be a national priority. In 2010, The National Security Strategy, a memo released by the White House, warned:
“The danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”
Each year climate change and global warming are chronically worsening.
Despite this clear convergence on climate change, the only ones who won’t agree on treating it are those who hold the most power to do so — The United States Congress. The reason for their inaction, unsurprisingly, is tied to one of the biggest problems currently festering in America’s weakened democracy, the corrupting influence of money in politics.
Greenpeace has just released a new report, written by Charlie Cray and Peter Montague, titled “The Kingpins of Carbon and Their War on Democracy.” The report begins with the well-accepted premise that climate change or global warming is a catastrophic issue that requires immediate serious attention from the world’s governments. The United States, however, remains frustratingly gridlocked and paralyzed on climate change. The report says,
“In Congress, the fossil corporations’ allies are refusing to act, based on the false claim that global warming is scientifically unproven or is even a hoax perpetrated by the world’s major scientific organizations. Meanwhile the 3.6 ° F. ‘safe’ limit on global warming will soon disappear in our rear-view mirror.”
Consider the “dog-whistle” issues that consistently divide Americans such as gun laws, school prayer and abortion, and one must ask what is it about climate change — an issue that 83 percent of Americans agree on according to a 2013 survey — that creates such turmoil? What is the source of the pushback in the face of a clear convergence?
The Greenpeace report identifies that source as “a multi-decade war on democracy by the kingpins of carbon — the coal, the oil, and gas industries allied with a handful of self-interested libertarian billionaires.” The self-interested libertarian billionaires are, of course, the infamous Koch brothers whose political influence has become well-known with the rise of the Tea Party movement. Not surprisingly Koch Industries has made billions of dollars off of the use of fossil fuels.
How is such a relatively small group of millionaires and billionaires able to achieve such great success in stalling national action on an issue that has dire consequences for the majority of the people on this planet? (See my letter to wealthy individuals asking them to band together to fund advocacy on climate change.)
Look to three Supreme Court decisions to find the answer. In 2010, Citizens United v. FEC gave big corporations like Pfizer, Aetna, Chevron, GM, Citigroup and Monsanto the ability to spend unlimited funds in independent expenditures to oppose or support candidates for public office. In 2013, Shelby County v. Holder overturned a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required areas with known, entrenched racial discrimination to be required to receive clearance from the U.S. Justice Department before instituting changes in voting laws. Finally, in 2014, the McCutcheon v. FEC decision significantly raised the amount that each individual can contribute to federal candidates and federal party committees from $123,200 to $3.6 million!
These Supreme Court decisions (mostly by a majority 5-4) are clear signs of a judicial dictatorship for plutocrats that carries the rancid banner for corporate privilege and power overriding the rights of individual voters. The unelected, life-tenured corporate court continues to tighten the noose of corporatism around the American people.
The Greenpeace report reveals that 89 wealthy political spenders with ties to the coal, oil and gas industries are the leading aggressors in support of fossil fuel companies that are raising the Earth’s temperature with little regard for the rest of humanity or posterity. Because of the current state of campaign laws, most of these donors remain anonymous and regularly pull the strings of government in their favor with few repercussions.
The singular agenda of these “Carbon Kingpins” according to the report:
“Prevent Congress from taking action to mitigate global warming; Eliminate all remaining restrictions on money in federal and state elections for legislators and judges, allowing totally-secret, unrestricted donations; Cut taxes [for the corporate and wealthy classes] to starve and shrink government, to keep it ineffective; Eliminate regulations that protect the environment, and, finally, Crush labor unions and reverse the victories of the civil rights movement.”
It’s a common theme in blockbuster Hollywood science fiction movies to demonstrate how an extraterrestrial invader can prompt the nations of Earth to set aside their various disagreements and band together to defend against a common foe. Climate change is, essentially, the equivalent of an extraterrestrial enemy. Just imagine if a handful of self-interested billionaires influenced the United States to let the Martians invade? The public would not stand for it. Yet the reality in America today is that a small group of reckless corporatists have put the entire world in danger to protect their harmful, environmentally destructive industries.
Obviously, the “Kingpins of Carbon” are not going to back down when their profits are on the line. It’s going to take a rising rumble from the people to turn the tide in favor of protecting the planet for future generations.
One simple solution would be to enact a carbon tax — supported by some conservatives and companies — that would place a fee on polluters that emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. This tax would discourage the use of dirty fossil fuels and encourage clean energy alternatives to avert global warming while raising considerable revenue that could be applied to bettering life in America in other innumerable ways.
Such solutions will not enact themselves without the will of the people, however. The clock is ticking. It’s time for immediate action on climate change and global warming.
Visit democracyforus.org to learn more.