To the editor:
So the president took some hits in the first debate. He seemed caught in the minutiae of his job, snagged by his own knowledge of the intricacies of leadership while his challenger was free to swipe freely, unhindered by the complexity of the issues or the office. But that’s the nature of these things. For hard political reasons, the president seemed unable at the time to cut through his opponent’s bluster or his own hard-earned knowledge of the cost of telling the truth in a vicious political climate.
Many of us were frustrated by what he did not say — about the freedom-crushing power of a handful of plutocrats and corporations, the decades-long failure of private insurance companies to extend health care to all, the continuing erosion of the commons under the banner of privatization, or how the radical individualism behind vouchers for schools or health care will destroy the ties that hold us together as a society.
But of the many things the president felt he could not say, what we most needed to hear was a response to Romney’s disingenuous question, “Why not take advantage of the oil, gas and coal right under our feet to create jobs?” The question seems reasonable enough. We all hate the rising gasoline prices, we know that economic growth depends on cheap energy, we have to cut our dependence on foreign oil. So why not use all the fuel we have right here at home?
The answer is obvious only if you understand that the problem is not supply but cost. Yes, the energy is available. We have huge coal reserves, plenty of natural gas from fracking, and massive potential in tar sands north of the border. That’s what the XL pipeline is all about. In fact, if we were to burn all the carbon that the energy companies have identified, it would keep our economy growing into the next century.
So why not do it? Because the planet simply cannot absorb the carbon dioxide that would be released. The cost is life on this planet that we love.
If we burn even a fifth all the gas, coal and oil available, it will raise the temperature of the earth beyond the limits of human life as we know it, wrote Bill McKibben in an article that rapidly went viral on the internet this summer. The harsh truth is that 80 percent of that carbon must remain in the ground. And yet it is worth a dazzling $27 trillion to the energy companies. They are unlikely to give it up without a fight. It’s no wonder they are spending millions of dollars to buy the votes of Congress and, indeed, the presidency itself. If they have their way, we can count on not merely a continuation, but an intensification of the extreme weather that we are already experiencing as, year after year, the ice in the Arctic melts and distorts the jet stream, as warming sea water concentrates the power of hurricanes, and as a thawing tundra releases heat-trapping methane producing fire and drought in some places, floods in others. Ultimately, within our children’s lifetimes, life itself will become seriously degraded. Global warming is not a hoax, nor is it the laugh line that Romney made of it in his convention speech. It is literally deadly serious.
It’s too bad the president was unable to say this. No doubt his advisors warned him that people are not ready to hear it, and they may be right. But there is a great longing abroad for truth, and there are signs that the American public is breaking out of the denial of recent years. Recent polls suggest that the summer’s frightening weather is beginning to convince people, and over 70 percent now acknowledge that climate change is real. A major climate awareness event scheduled in Seattle with McKibben and others just after election day is already sold out.
It’s true that many who care about the future of our planet have been disappointed by the president’s limited attention to climate change, but in this election we have a very clear choice between a candidate who is deeply beholden to the oil companies and a president who is ready to work if we care enough to give him our vote and then to press his administration to take action on the most urgent challenge ever to face our species.
L.A. PARKS DALOZ
The Whidbey Institute