Skip The Climate Bill, Go For The Renewable Energy

The recent outpouring of complaints from the climate change community is frustrating. They feel they’re losing ground—and they are—but it’s mostly their fault.

Way back in the beginning of the year, the bureaucratic nightmare that was the Copenhagen Climate Summit set back serious worldwide climate talks for at least a half a decade. And around that time, right-wing talk radio was bashing Al Gore because it was so cold that winter.

Well, I don’t need to tell you, it’s been kind of hot out. And Gore’s in the news for other reasons now.

There aren’t any tales of rivers and seas boiling yet (unless you read Thomas Friedman), but climate change-focused columnists with their palms upturned to the sky abound as Democrats bailed on efforts to pass a climate and energy bill. With all the health care, unemployment, stimulus and bailout bills, as well as the oncoming slaughter the Democrats will receive in November, climate change doesn’t seem high on the agenda.

Say what you want about the Obama administration, they’ve been busy.

But rather than riding the Mother Nature-that-our-children-will-inherit train, last stop, No One Cares, population left-wing bloggers, why aren’t climate change proponents appealing to more base, selfish impulses within the public, such as greed and fear?

Frame the debate around me, not the future, and then you’ve got me listening.

Of course, greed is what got us into this mess. Cheap oil allowed America to become the superpower it arguably still is. But reserves worldwide are petering out (and in some underwater cases, gushing out). So why not scare the shit out of everyone with peak oil and rising gasoline prices?

As of 2007, the world used 31 billion barrels of oil every year. And current estimates from the International Energy Agency (which are usually wrong, but all we’ve got for now) put the current figure of oil reserves around almost 1.4 trillion barrels. Assuming zero growth rate from the period of 2007, we’ve got a little over forty years before we run out of oil.

As in, no more. Gone. None. We’re talking Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

Big ideas are the only way out of this one. As much as I’d like to create more dinosaurs to roam the earth to create more oil, unfortunately, it’s just not going to happen. Not in time, anyway.

Instead of allowing the richest corporations in the world (four of the top five companies with the largest revenue are oil and gas companies) to run roughshod over the legislative landscape with unlimited lobbying dollars—thanks, Supreme Court—put all of the tax breaks to traditional energy into renewable energy. All of them. You can’t tell me that ExxonMobil needs tax breaks to remain competitive with nationalized energy companies in the Middle East. They can fend for themselves.

Instead, put people to work building solar collectors in New Mexico and Nevada. Make the dialogue about smart renewable energy, not the corn lobby of ethanol, which raises food prices at the expense of gas prices.

By giving these industries tax breaks and subsidizing their product, you solve climate change from the bottom up—in order to work, it must be cheaper for the consumer to buy renewable in the long run (that’s the greed part)—rather than creating a market of carbon caps that will never make it through the two chambers. Even if it did, with the current dysfunctional legislative system, any carbon tax legislation would be so neutered as to be effectively broken, like the healthy care overhaul.

Of course, you’d have to convince Republicans from Texas, Alaska and the Gulf states to stop being wined and dined by Big Oil and instead give up their power to a bunch of idealistic engineers fresh out of college who haven’t already been bought up by the energy companies that pay better.

Sometimes, capitalism is the wrong way to handle things.