Saving the Earth: Are there Grounds for Optimism?

by Lorna Salzman

Given the debacle unfolding in Washington over how to rescue capitalism, it is time for a reality check. Let's look at the scorecard so far.
Coal-fueled power plants, largest stationary energy source, are still operating here and abroad, and there is no indication they will be shut down in any meaningful time frame.

Oil prices have dropped and so have gasoline prices.

Government subsidies and incentives for fossil fuels and nukes abound in the proposed stimulus package and in existing legislation, including money to stimulate the purchase of new cars (!). I am not making this up.

Public transportation and energy efficiency have been starved to death in the stimulus bill.

The Beltway Biggies (NRDC, EDF, WRI, Pew, plus the U.S. Climate Action Plan corporations) are calling the shots in congress on energy, with little opposition and are pushing carbon trading and preventing a carbon tax.

A national, rapidly declining cap on overall CO2 emissions from all stationary power sources has not been set, nor mandatory efficiency standards.

An international carbon trading regime is expanding, continuing global reliance on fossil fuels, primarily coal; this is already enriching the new middleman sector of brokers, accountants and lawyers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars (our dollars), while raising energy prices for the public and seriously delaying the development of renewable energy and mandatory efficiency standards and measures.
Conventional wisdom prevails in the mantra of reducing CO2 "80% by 2050', even among some of the progressive environmental groups, when science tells us we need to cut back 90% within ten years (at most).

The goal of cutting back GHGs to 300-350 ppm has not been adopted or even acknowledged by our elected officials.

Many scientists quietly believe that we have already exceeded the average global temperature that might have headed off climate change catastrophe, that is, 2 degrees Celsius, and that we are already committed to irreversible ecological conditions that still bring social and economic disruption and chaos within a matter of years.

The government and the private sector are still promoting increased consumption and economic growth as their top priorities, fearing that citizens will (choke) save their money or (choke choke) use it to pay off their debts.

Renewable energy technologies are still poor relations to fossil fuel and can't compete with existing subsidies.

Studies in Europe show that even market penetration and government promotion of renewable energy hasn't reduced CO2 emissions.

Converting an energy economy takes up to fifty years.

Imports of foreign goods and foodstuffs do not reflect their environmental and energy costs (or social costs).

The accumulation of evidence showing the rapid advance of global warming impacts, decades in advance of predictions by the IPCC, is largely ignored by American mass media.

Public understanding and awareness of the crisis and the imminence of irreversible tipping points, remains minimal due to internet doubters, mass media, congress, and businesses, all of which are focused strictly on "the economy", as if energy and ecology play no role.

Schools and universities for the most part still lack mandatory environmental studies courses.

Religious and spiritual leaders preach change in personal moral behavior but play no role in community organizing, electoral campaigns or political activism.

Leftist groups, the US Green Party and media on the left for the most part still relegate environmental concerns to the back burner (exception: We Act and the Climate Justice movement), with some preaching socialism as the answer.

No counterweight to the compromised environmental groups (NRDC, EDF, et al) has developed as a lobbying force in congress, allowing some congress members to continue to sponsor flabby weak ineffective energy bills that are universes away from being commensurate with the threat of global warming.

Deforestation across the globe by numerous governments and corporations continues unabated, with little or no protest by our government.

Financial assistance institutions like the World Bank, IMF and NAFTA remain committed to traditional development models and still refuse to incorporate environmental criteria into their lending policies.

Wildly out of control population growth in Africa (denied by leftists and nationalists) is leading many countries there to the brink of ecological disaster, as water becomes scarce or polluted, soil depleted, access to arable land disputed and fought over, trees and shrubs cut down for fuel, and natural resources monopolized for export currency (see the film Darwin's Nightmare, showing how Lake Victoria's remaining fish monoculture is exploited to provide fish filets exported to western Europe, while the local population is reduced to eating what remains on the discarded fish skeletons and Russian pilots get rich flying the fish to Europe and bringing back illegal weapons for African insurrections).

Apologies if I have left anything out.

Draw your own conclusions.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.